Gay Teen Tormented by Fellow Students--and Teacher
An openly gay 15-year-old Florida student says that he has been targeted for harassment and physical violence--with some of the taunting he's had to endure allegedly being at the hands of one his teachers.
A March 24 article at Politicus USA says reports that the local political climate in Flagler County, where the student Luke Herbert attended high school in the Flagler County School District, is intensely anti-gay. "The U.S. Congressman for this district, John L. Mica, has voted against every single gay rights measure ever presented to him for a vote," the article noted. "The KKK has distributed hate literature in the county, telling persons 'qualified' to apply for KKK membership that they will help 'stop the moral destruction of our culture by homosexuals.'
"Luke reports he has never heard any adult in the Flagler County Schools say the least positive thing about gay people," the article added.
A Feb. 24 article posted by Central Florida News 13 reported that the anti-gay harassment directed at Herbert is not only the work of fellow students: At least one teacher, shop instructor Floyd Binkley, has also allegedly subjected the young man to anti-gay taunts.
"He stood in front of the class and said 'you can't put Mountain Dew or Pepsi in the same fridge or they'll turn gay,' " Herbert told the media. On another occasion, "He came over to me and I was like, 'Hi.' He said hi, like he was imitating me or mocking me," the teen related. In a discussion of grades that members of the class would be receiving, Binkley announced that everyone would be awarded an A except for Herbert, who was going to be given an F, Politicus said.
Such instances of anti-gay abuse by school staff are not unknown. In 2009, allegations of systematic harassment of a male student by Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson--high school teachers for Minnesota's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin--led to an investigation by the state's Dept. of Human Rights. The investigation found that the rights of student Alex Merritt, had been violated.
The teachers reportedly mocked Merritt for being gay, although Merritt says he is heterosexual. Merritt finally transferred to, and graduated from, a different school; both Cleveland and Filson continued with their teaching duties. The school district denied any wrongdoing, but settled with Merritt's family for $25,000. Cleveland was given a two-day suspension, but after one day called in sick, missing the rest of the week.
Among other allegations, Cleveland reportedly remarked that Merritt had a "thing for older men" when the student handed in a report about Benjamin Franklin, and joked during a screening of a movie in which a bathing suit scene took place that the sight of a scantily clad young woman on screen would not mean anything to the young man, adding that "maybe if it was a guy" on screen the scene would be a cause for concern.
Filson reportedly told students searching for participants for a fashion show to "Take [Merritt] because he enjoys wearing women's clothes."
The executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Eliza Byard, spoke out against the teachers' alleged harassment of Merritt.
"That the school allegedly allowed harassment by students to continue even after it was made aware of the teachers' behavior is unthinkable," Byard stated.
Added Byard, "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."
Noted a GLSEN press release on the story, "Homophobic comments by teachers are, sadly, quite common."
"Nearly two-thirds (63%) of LGBT 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," the release continued.
The release reported that, "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."
Luke Herbert himself reportedly suffered just such physical violence in while still in middle school, when a female classmate persistently harassed, and eventually assaulted, him, throwing a soft drink can at his head and attempting to wrest a book bag out of his grasp. A passing motorist interrupted her attack, the Politicus USA article said.
Next: Harassment Ratchets Up