Gay Student Sues School For Nonprotection

Derek Henkle filed a lawsuit Jan. 28 against several schools, school officials and teachers in Reno, Nev., for failing to protect him from anti-gay harassment and for violating his constitutional rights to equal protection. He is also making claims of infliction of emotional distress.

Lambda Legal Defense and Educational and Education Fund is handling the suit, which is seeking a high school diploma, along with compensatory and punitive damages.

Henkle said of his experience: "School for me on a daily basis was an unknown. It was a daily nightmare. It was something I was forced under Nevada law to attend every day, but not given any avenue to be safe while I was there." He said he was frequently verbally and physically attacked, to the point of there being an attempt made by several students to lasso him by the neck and drag him behind a truck. He managed to escape, but no action was taken by the school against these perpetrators.

The suit claims the schools never took action against any person who harassed Henkle, even after his parents made complaints. Henkle said school officials saw him as the problem and he was moved between three schools as a solution. He also alleges school officials instructed him to hide his sexuality to avoid problems, one principal telling him to stop "acting like a fag."

Jon W. Davidson, Lambda’s supervising attorney, said the case is an important wake-up call to schools, which need to learn it is not OK to let lesbian and gay students be treated as punching bags. "Unfortunately, the problem of harassment against gay youth is epidemic in schools across the country," he said.

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