The Gay Selma

Schools ignore gay bullying at their own peril

"This is a groundbreaking, historic agreement that will be used as a model across the country to deal with these issues," says attorney Zachary Stephenson, who helped represent the students.

One of the conditions of the settlement is that Anoka-Hennepin is required to hire several consultants on sex discrimination and mental health. In the running for one of those positions is Jamie Nabozny, who has firsthand experience. Growing up in small-town Wisconsin, he was shoved into lockers, urinated on and beaten so badly in a hallway that he had to have stomach surgery.

In 1996, Nabozny sued the school's administrators. His bully took the stand and testified that their principal knew about the violent abuse. The jury found that Nabozny deserved equal protection based on sexual orientation under the U.S. Constitution and awarded him almost $1 million.

Sex columnist Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller, left, appear in the inaugural "It Gets Better" video.
Sex columnist Dan Savage, right, and his husband Terry Miller, left, appear in the inaugural "It Gets Better" video.
Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after he and a male date were spied on by Clement's roommate.
thetylerclementifoundation.org
Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after he and a male date were spied on by Clement's roommate.

"That hadn't been done before," says Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director at Lambda Legal, the firm that represented Nabozny. "And still we're lacking a federal law that is specific on protection for students on the basis of sexual orientation."

Nabozny realized how little had changed since his experience and started speaking in schools two years ago. He's since received apologies from former classmates and even the children of his bullies.

"A lot of people in the country don't care if gay people have the right to marry — they didn't think too much about LGBT rights," Nabozny says. "Then people saw kids were killing themselves and said, 'Wait a minute, this isn't OK.'"

On a recent evening, Nabozny looked skeptically at his reflection in a multi-faceted mirror. He was dressed in a sleek black tuxedo coat.

"Can't we just wear suits?" he begged.

"No," answered Bo Shafer, the man standing next to him wearing a matching ivory tuxedo coat.

In September, Nabozny and Shafer are getting married in front of 150 guests, despite the fact that the nuptials will not be legally binding.

"We still have people who are very intolerant out there — they're fighting our right to be with who we want to be with, and love who we want to love," Nabozny explains. "The marriage debate is much more heated and controversial. Protecting kids in school is not."

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11 comments
Joe L
Joe L

One thing is clear in the upcoming presidential election. There is a (very) stark difference in candidates on gay rights and protection that people should include in their consideration. There is Mitt Romney, himself with a history of serious gay bullying, outspoken in his opposition to gay rights and gay marriage, member of a church (some say cult) that very actively fights gay rights, and of course, there is Barack Obama who has come out in favor of gay marriage, ended "Don't ask, don't tell", stopped enforcing the unconstitutional "Defense of Marriage Act", and otherwise acted to protect gays.

For voters interested in these issues, it is really important to vote this time.

Russp
Russp

Bullying has been going on probably as long as there has been kids. In the past, the kids ignored it, fought back or went to an adult. What has changed to take it to the point kids now feel the only way out it suicide?

Steve
Steve

Kids are ruthless. Most kids get bullied at some point. Quit making it a fuckin' gay-only thing.

Preppy6917
Preppy6917

Did you miss the part where adults refused to intervene and even blame the victim?

Nikki
Nikki

Your comment is exactly what the whole article was about. Ignoring a problem because you don't like the subject does not make it immaterial. I suppose when one of your kids grows up gay, you will have a whole different attitude.

Russp
Russp

While that may have occurred in a few instances, it's not a factor in many of the other cases that ended in a suicide. Some examples is the Rutgers student who committed suicide after his video kiss ended up on You Tube or closer to home, the young boy (I believe his name was Montana) that committed suicide in a school bathroom after being bullied right here in north Texas. They were not blamed and had family support. So I again ask what has changed to make kids feel suicide is the way to deal with bullying, whether over sexual orientation or just being a "geek", "nerd" or whatever ?

Old Marshmallow
Old Marshmallow

Nikki, I'm not so sure Steve and others are ignoring the problem as much as denying its validity. He, in particular, appears to resent that gays - or those perceived to be gay - are the focus of any effort to improve their well-being. Thus, in his mode of thinking, the focus should be softened to the point that we equate the bullying endured by students for their perceived sexual orientation with that for their having a skin condition. Minimalizing harm done to others is an old and well-worn tool in the bully's workshop. So is the claim that it happens to everyone ("most kids").

I would hazard a guess that Steve would rather just have the "gay" part disappear, sort of like those who ultimately committed suicide, so he wouldn't have to be troubled by hearing about it.

AJ North Carolina
AJ North Carolina

Thanks Nikki. You are spot on. Can you imagine the howls for blood there would be, and rightfully so, if a bully or bullies said: Let's find us a nigger and beat the shit out of him. It's no different.Oh, Steve, by the way, Federal Law ensures that ALL students are guaranteed access to a Free and Appropriate public education. Rather hard to access such an education with a smashed in face or, worse, lying 6 feet under ground, wouldn't you say? Cheers, mate.

Steve
Steve

I'm not ignoring it. The best measure of equality I can offer to gay people (and my gay friends appreciate this) is to NOT single them out.

Kids are ruthless, equal opportunity offendors. Gay/black/zits/no tits/early tits/poor/rumored to have done something - - it's all fodder, it all can leave scars.

"Quit making it a gay-only thing" does not dismiss or ignore the problem. The article reveres homosexual-based bullying as WORSE than bullying for other reasons.

Quit branding being gay as a fuckin' badge of courage, it's not that big a deal.

KC
KC

Regardless of sexual orientation, bullying is taken place in schools. Though, depending on the reason the person is being bullied, may depend on them actually letting an adult be aware of the bullying taken place.

Teenagers can bully discreetly, and not all that are bullied will readily tell someone to prevent it from happening. I would be less likely to tell my parents or teachers someone is harassing me for being a lesbian, than if they were doing it because I was Hispanic, or they made fun of me being in band.

It's more personal, teenagers are already confused and going through many changes. They're barely discovering their own sexuality, and I'm sure not rushin to tell their parents or teachers they're being harassed for being gay. This keeps things hidden and causes more harm.

Any bullying not addressed that continues causes more distress. This just brings more light to it in regards to sexual orientation, because it's more in the shadows. Though the steps being taken are to stop all bullying.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

couldn't agree with you more. I can guarantee you that gay kids aren't the only ones bullied, they make up a percentage that I'm guessing is below 25% at its highest. My kids have been bullied while riding their bus, nothing was done about it by the driver or the school principal. Threats were made to the students of some sort of school discipline. When that didn't work, as a good parent, I left work early and waited at the bus stop for them, they pointed to the kids, and I had a talk with them. Guess what? There was no more bullying after that, they didn't even look at my kids. Until you bully the bullies, it won't end. @AJ, would you suggest we start putting bullies 6 feet under?

 
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