Gay Teen Tormented by Fellow Students--and Teacher
But that was only a prelude of things to come. Since entering high school, Herbert said, the abuse to which he has been subjected has escalated to "a whole different level." Herbert started classes at Flagler Palm Coast High School last August; from the start, he told Politicus USA, he was shunned and denigrated with anti-gay slurs, sometimes in front of school personnel who did nothing to intervene, as happened in science class when Herbert was targeted for bias-based bullying and the teacher allegedly did nothing to stop it. The Politicus article characterized the bully as "stalking" Herbert, issuing threats verbally and online. The bullying continued until the day when the taunts turned physical and the bully reportedly assaulted Herbert.
"He came out of nowhere and shoved me down onto the cement," Herbert told Politicus. "Pretty much, I blacked out; my head had hit the ground." A member of the staff intervened, but the bully followed up by sending a message over Thanksgiving break.
"Ha ha ha! How are you feeling?" the message read.
The assailant received a ten-day suspension and Herbert was given assurances that his attacker would be placed in another classroom. When the assailant returned, however, he resumed his old place in Herbert's science class.
The harassment by students and staff extended to the bus service. "They wouldn't make room for me in any of the seats," Herbert told Politicus, "and the bus isn't allowed to move until everybody is sitting down.
"So I'd be standing there, and everybody would be making fun of me. The driver knew that was going on. That was another reason I didn't want to get up in the morning." Herbert's academic work suffered; eventually, he dropped out of the school.
According to GLSEN, gay youths are more prone to truancy and dropping out of school. In many cases, gay teens avoid school or drop out due to fear for their physical safety.
Increasingly, schools that permit bullying to continue--and even ignore bullying by the staff--are met with civil action, resulting in school districts--often cash-starved to begin with--paying out for settlements. The settlement negotiated by the ACLU on Herbert's behalf was, the Politicus article alleged, "inadequate:"
"The school, for instance, does not have specific LGBT-related wording in its anti-bullying policies," Politicus noted. "The School Board would have to approve such wording. The ACLU, as happened, settled for the district 'recommending' to the School Board the adding of protections for 'sexual orientation' and "gender identity or expression" to the Student Code of Conduct and the school district's bullying and harassment policy. There is no guarantee that the Board will add those protections. And, should it decide not to add them, no penalty will be imposed on it."
Meantime, Herbert, who has been driven from a public program of education by anti-gay harassment, has had to resort to online education.
"I asked him the following question," the author of the Politicus article, Scott Rose, wrote. "If Flagler Palm Coast High School were a totally safe and accepting environment for you today, would you prefer going there over studying through 'Virtual School'?
"Luke's ACLU attorney did not give him space to answer that question. She jumped in immediately and said 'Luke fell behind in school, and we are happy that the school worked with us to help him get caught up, so that hopefully, he can start tenth grade on time next year.' "
Rose reported that the ACLU seemed to be hastily interceding in a number of cases when the reporter attempted to ask questions that were evidently of a sensitive nature, such as the name of the science class bully or whether Herbert was personally satisfied with the settlement the ACLU had brokered on his behalf.
The ACLU has been active in protecting the rights of LGBT youths, generating headlines last year for defending Constance McMillan, a high school lesbian who was denied permission to escort her girlfriend to the school prom.
A federal lawsuit brought on her behalf by the ACLU resulted in the cancellation of the prom--and the scheduling of an alternate "formal dance" to which McMillan was not invited. Instead, McMillan and a handful of other students were shunted to what some have dubbed a "fake prom," while almost all of the teen's other classmates attended the formal event elsewhere.
But Politicus was harsh in its criticism of the ACLU, with a separate, March 27 article on the story declaring that the civil rights organization was comporting itself "disgracefully" in this instance.
"Had there been any actual legal case involved, a client might be talking with another attorney about bringing a legal malpractice case against the ACLU," Rose, who also authored the second article, wrote. "The ACLU.... is able to use Luke's case to attract donations for itself, while Luke will remain entirely uncompensated." Rose went on to say, "That no legal action was initiated is very curious. Luke is a victim of extremely serious crimes. His future . . . (his emotional well-being, his education, his college-readiness, and his economic prospects) .. . has been placed in jeopardy by these crimes. Yet the ACLU is complicit in allowing Flagler County Schools to mischaracterize, minimize and in some cases even to deny the details and severity of what Luke has suffered."
Rose went on to note that a suit and momentary settlement for Herbert would have entailed a transfer of taxpayer dollars from the school system to the bullying victim the system did little to protect, and speculated that a wish not to "alienate its Florida donors" might account for the manner in which the ACLU handled the case. Rose opined that the result was "an appearance that the ACLU could have a financial disincentive about obtaining money for Luke."
"I sort of regret being gay, because it has brought me a lot of problems," Herbert told Politicus. "Not that I have a choice."