As encouraging as achieving marriage equality has been, LGBT people still face numerous challenges in the quest for true parity in society. Nowhere can this be felt more profoundly than in the struggles of LGBT youth, who often deal with bigotry and discrimination from both their peers and the adults who are supposed to protect them. There are some happy endings in this list of “13 Times High Schools Were Homophobic,” but there are many young people who will never see justice. Read these heartbreaking and sometimes affirming stories on the next pages.
More than a dozen Shadow Hills High School students in Indio, Calif., began wearing homophobic badges that displayed rainbow symbols with strikes through them. Students admitted that the badges were intended to send a hateful message against LGBT rights and pride. School officials did not initially take action, as they believed the hate speech to be protected, but did step in when they determined the conduct had risen to the level of bullying and/or intimidation.
Franklin County High School in Winchester, Tenn., has attracted national attention due to the controversy over the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance. Prominent hate groups MassResistance and Liberty Counsel have offered legal assistance and support to the GSA’s opponents. Many parents have spoken out against the club but others have defended it. The school board is currently considering new policies on school clubs but has deferred action until next month. In the meantime, the club is allowed to continue meeting.
Unlike in the incident in California, students at Franklin County High School in Tennessee will not be punished for wearing “straight pride” signs in protest of the school’s new Gay-Straight Alliance. Teachers removed posters that were originally placed around campus and students began wearing the signs on their shirts instead. Teachers asked them to remove the shirts and they refused, and were not punished for disobeying.
Three 17-year-old high school football players in Pennsylvania were accused of assaulting a teammate with a broom handle in the locker room on what they referred to as “No Gay Thursday,” in a shocking example of how hateful speech can easily turn violent. The tradition stemmed from allowing same-sex sexual harassment as a form of hazing. The Chester County district attorney filed charges against the students and accused the coaching staff of a “shocking lack of supervision.” The coach has since resigned.
Officials claimed that a 16-year-old’s t-shirt declaring “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” was disruptive, disrespectful of religious values, and promoted sex. They banned her from Chesnee High School in South Carolina until she stopped wearing the shirt, and she filed a successful lawsuit to protect her freedom of speech.
At Ethan Chase Middle School in Menifee, Calif., a middle-school boy was forbidden to wear a Disney princess costume even though officials had encouraged students to wear Disney costumes for the school’s spirit day. The superintendent claims that the costume was confiscated to prevent a disruption, and that the school supports students “regardless of gender identity or gender expression,” but the student’s mother spoke out saying that her son was told “the principal does not believe that boys should be dressed like girls.”
On a team trip to a tournament in Pauls Valley, Okla., four high school wrestlers from Norman public schools allegedly pinned down two of their teammates on a school bus and violated them with their fingers. One of the victims was a 12-year-old boy. Prosecutors say there is video footage of the incident. One of the wrestling coaches has been fired, and the other has resigned.
Arborwood Elementary School in Monroe, Mich., banned a popular children’s book — part of the Captain Underpants series — from the annual book fair because one of the main characters is gay. Citing “controversy” surrounding the character, the superintendent decided to make the book available online but not at the book fair. The decision was made by the school’s parent-teacher organization, as members felt parents needed to sign off before students were exposed to the book. According to the American Library Association, books in the series were the most banned books in 2013 and 2014.
Mt. Erie Christian Academy, a private religious school in San Diego, banned a 5-year-old student from returning because her parents are lesbians. The school cited its policy against “sexual immorality” and “the homosexual lifestyle” in its decision to expel the girl.
Nashville nondenominational Christian school Davidson Academy rejected the two children of pastor Greg Bullard and his husband, Brian Copeland, because of the parents' relationship. Copeland shared the school’s letter on Facebook — it quotes a passage from the school’s handbook that singles out homosexuality as an unacceptable "lifestyle."
After a student expressed a desire to talk about coming out to her parents in her homecoming court speech, Quitman High School in Arkansas canceled the entire program of speeches. The student agreed not to address the subject, but the administrators canceled the speeches anyway.
School officials at Sheridan High School in Arkansas refused to publish a profile on an openly gay student in the yearbook, claiming that it could have led to bullying. The student said he understood the implications of sharing the story, but said school officials really barred him from contributing because they deemed his sexual orientation “too personal” a topic.
Officials at the Itawamba School District in Mississippi messed with the wrong teenager when they chose to cancel prom rather than let Constance McMillen attend with her girlfriend. Her story made national headlines and attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. It filed suit against the district on her behalf, and the court ordered the district to pay McMillen’s court fees and $35,000 in damages.
In a statement, McMillen said “I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school. I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”