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Zach Huston loves to run. Still, the track coaches at Unioto High School in
Chillicothe, Ohio probably don't know that because he's too worried what his
peers might do if he were to join the track team.
Huston, a freshman at the school, was the subject of a beating, caught on video that went viral online. He says that without the October 17 attack being filmed, faculty and administrators would have taken little action against his assailant. In fact, Huston says his classmates have taunted him since the third grade, with little done to stop or prevent it.
"In third grade, they didn't know what gay was yet, so they didn't call me that, but they mimicked my voice and called me other names," Huston told The Advocate. "That was up until fifth grade. That's when everyone started to know what gay was, so they called me gay slurs. Then freshman year, the physical stuff started."
The 14-year-old Huston said this year in high school, other students started daring each other to touch him, or shove him. For years his mother, Rebecca Collins, had urged teachers to stand up for her son. Now that many have witnessed the brutal beating and called for action, Collins said she isn't backing down from people who say she's only drumming up publicity for money or personal satisfaction.
"If you're not going to protect your kid, no one else is going to do it," she said. "If you still don't get the satisfaction that you're looking for, then take the next step. Go to town halls, get legal counsel, and just work to get the awareness out. We have to stop this from happening."
Collins was interviewed after the tape turned up online, and she narrated what she saw of the vicious beating, with the attacker loitering as he waited for Huston, then punching him as Huston tries to escape, until he finally stands over Huston on the ground and delivers at least seven punches in quick succession, the smacks audible on the tape.
Huston's attacker -- identified as 15-year-old Levi Sever --has apparently pleaded guilty to a delinquency count of assault, and he now must wear an ankle monitor and check in with a probation officer, according to the Lancaster Eagle Gazette.
The family is now working with the
American Civil Liberties Union to ensure the harassment, bullying, and assault that
Huston endured is quashed before it can get much worse. ACLU officials sent a
letter to the Union-Scioto school district threatening a lawsuit and seeking
changes to prevent future cases of bullying. And more than 80,000 people across
the country have a signed an online petition calling for changes at the school.
Still, Huston said he worries the climate of hostility may not improve at his
school for future generations.
Collins said her strong bond with Huston and his siblings have helped their family cope with tough issues before.
"If you're not in tune with your child, and you can't tell that something's going on with them, that's when you end up with suicide," she said. "They're still children. If you're a good parent, you're going to raise good kids. My kids come to me for some silly reasons, but you talk to them, and you help them in any way you can."
After the incident, Huston walks the halls every day and endures taunts from classmates, some of whom have also filed bullying reports against him. Collins said she saves all of the Facebook comments that she and her son receive from naysayers and others who threaten them. While he has found allies in some like his assistant principal, Huston said other students still get picked on just for being different. Huston's assistant principal has been talking about starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, which seems to Huston like a step in the right direction. Until then, Huston plans to walk from class to class with his head held high.
"You can't just give into people's expectations," Huston said. "You've got to be yourself. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."