News - December 1995

First federal appeal challenging anti-gay violence in schools

CHICAGO -- In the first known federal appellate case challenging anti-gay violence in public schools, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed an appeal Nov. 8 to a ruling by a Wisconsin federal judge dismissing a lawsuit by a gay student against his former school.

The student, Jamie Nabozny, suffered years of brutal verbal and physical harassment at the hands of his classmates, leading him to attempt suicide, to drop out of school, and to be diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

"Our public schools cannot shirk their responsibility to protect gay and lesbian students from violence and harassment -- no teenager should have to endure abuse to get an education," said Patricia M. Logue, Managing Attorney at Lambda's Midwest Regional Office, and counsel to Nabozny. "With the federal government reporting that one-third of teen suicides are by lesbian and gay youth, it is imperative that schools show zero tolerance for anti-gay attacks."

Nabozny suffered multiple physical assaults from seventh grade to eleventh grade in an Ashland, Wisconsin school district. Students trapped Nabozny in the hallways or the bathroom and beat him, punching, kicking, and even urinating on him.

During one assault, several boys pinned Nabozny to the floor and acted out sexual acts on him, with the class looking on. In addition to the beatings, during the four-year ordeal Nabozny also suffered relentless verbal abuse.

Throughout the years of abuse, Nabozny's parents stood by their gay son and unsuccessfully attempted to get the school to effectively discipline the boys who abused Nabozny, but no meaningful discipline was ever imposed. Instead, school officials scoffed at Nabozny, telling him that "boys will be boys." Notably, the school has recognized the need to eliminate harassment based on gender rather than sexual orientation.

"All students are entitled to a safe learning environment," said David Buckel, a Lambda Staff Attorney working on the case. "Schools cannot justify violence against lesbian and gay students with cliches like boys will be boys.'"

Lambda is seeking review by the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. The appeal is from a grant of summary judgment on October 5, 1995 in the Western District of Wisconsin, which denied Nabozny an opportunity to take his case to trial. Lambda was not involved in the district court proceedings.

[OASIS]General information: Jeff Walsh
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