NEW YORK, August 13, 2009 - GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is outraged by the actions of two Minnesota teachers who allegedly harassed a student for his perceived sexual orientation throughout the 2007-08 school year, and of the Anoka-Hennepin School District for its lack of action to ensure a safe learning environment for its students.
A Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation found that "jokes, comments and innuendos led to a hostile, abusive environment" at the student's high school. The investigation's ruling led to a $25,000 settlement.
"The reports of what this student endured from his teachers are horrific," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "Teachers should be working to stop students from these types of hateful behaviors not encouraging them by modeling the behavior. That the school allegedly allowed harassment by students to continue even after it was made aware of the teachers' behavior is unthinkable. We can only hope that the school district will do everything it can to ensure that no other student will ever have to go through the dehumanizing harassment this student suffered."
Among the alleged comments by the teachers:
When teacher Diane Cleveland learned that the student was doing a report on Ben Franklin for her class, she made comments in front of the class that implied that the student had a "thing for older men";
When Cleveland's class was watching the 1989 film, Christmas Vacation, Cleveland covered the screen during a swimming pool/bathing suit scene and commented, "It's OK if [the student perceived to be gay] watches this because he isn't into that sort of thing anyway ... maybe if it was a guy."
After students came to teacher Walker Filson's classroom seeking male participates for a fashion show, Filson stated, "Take [the student perceived to be gay] because he enjoys wearing woman's clothes. ... He would love to be in the show."
The student ultimately transferred to another district. Both teachers were allowed to keep teaching at the school.
Homophobic comments by teachers are, sadly, quite common. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students said they had heard such remarks from teachers or other school staff, according to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey on the experiences of LGBT students in school.
A Minnesota research brief released in June using data from the National School Climate Survey found that 87% of Minnesota LGBT students experienced verbal harassment in school because of their sexual orientation, 41% experienced physical harassment and 14% experienced physical assault.
The report can be found at THIS LINK.
The settlement is another in a string of cases successfully brought against school districts across the country for failing to protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Fifteen Expensive Reasons, a document from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLSEN, highlights 15 such cases. It can be found at NCLR.org.
"Schools have a legal obligation to make sure their students have access to an education, and ignoring or encouraging anti-gay behavior deprives students of their right to an education," Byard said.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org