High School Harassment
BY Advocate Contributors
June 23 2010 9:50 AM ET
For Jamie Nabozny, it all started in the seventh grade when some of his fellow students began taunting him with words like “faggot” and “queer.” By eighth grade, the harassment became physical. And by high school, it was relentless. One day, Jamie was in a bathroom at his high school when two boys attacked him from behind. One of the attackers forced his knee into Jamie, causing him to fall into a urinal, while the other proceeded to urinate on him. Crying and covered in urine, Jamie headed for the principal’s office — like he’d done so many times before — but was simply advised to go home and change his clothes. A couple years later Jamie found himself lying on the floor of his school’s library as a boy repeatedly kicked him in the stomach — a beating so vicious that he required surgery — while other kids cheered.
On countless occasions during those intervening years, Jamie and his parents pleaded with Ashland, Wisconsin, school administrators to stop the anti-gay harassment. But officials refused to get involved. In fact, no student was ever disciplined. This pattern of omission and neglect eventually led to a lawsuit, Nabozny v. Podlesny, in which a jury found that the school failed to protect Jamie and violated his constitutional rights. The school district then entered into a settlement agreement with Jamie that awarded him almost one million dollars.
The advancement of LGBT rights has come about through struggles large and small — on the streets, around kitchen tables, and on the Web. In addition, lawsuits like Jamie’s have played a vital role in propelling the movement forward. Prior to his case, the suffering of countless queer and gender non-conforming students went largely unacknowledged, but in the decade following the court ruling, school districts across the country agreed to pay over $4 million to LGBT students who filed lawsuits. In addition, several settlement agreements have required school districts to adopt policies, procedures, and training programs specifically aimed at addressing and preventing harassment of LGBT students. And most of those gains can be traced back to Jamie Nabozny’s courageous decision to sue.