News - January 1996

Lambda Legal Defense Challenges Anti-Gay Violence In Schools

In the first federal appellate case challenging anti-gay violence in public schools, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed its brief today in a case by a gay student whose school failed to stop anti-gay assaults on him and ignored his pleas because of his sexual orientation.

"Despite years of physical assaults and continual harassment by other students, school officials told our client he had to take the abuse because he is gay. That is unacceptable," said Patricia M. Logue, Managing Attorney at Lambda's Midwest Regional Office, and counsel to the plaintiff. "Every child deserves a safe environment in which to get an education, and that education should emphasize teaching the value of respect for others."

Jamie Nabozny -- the plaintiff in the case -- suffered multiple physical assaults during his years in an Ashland, Wisconsin school district, from seventh grade to eleventh grade. Students would trap him in the hallways or the bathroom and beat, punch, kick, and even urinate on him. In addition to the repeated beatings, during the four-year ordeal he suffered relentless verbal abuse and sexual harassment. The torment led him to make multiple suicide attempts, to dropping out of school, and to develop post traumatic stress disorder.

Throughout the years, Jamie's parents stood by their gay son, constantly attempting to get the school to discipline the boys who abused Jamie. However, no meaningful discipline was imposed and school officials scoffed at Jamie, telling him that he had to expect such abuse because he is gay.

"If I didn't have parents who showed they continued to love me after they found out I was gay, I would probably be dead," said Nabozny. "I hope this case will help other teens who go through this terror year after year, especially those who don't have the love they need at home to help them through it."

"Anti-gay violence is on the rise in schools, and students themselves have forced public hearings in the states of Massachusetts and Washington, and in the cities of Austin, Providence, and Wichita," said David Buckel, Lambda Staff Attorney working on the case. "It's a national shame that schoolchildren have to pursue safety issues on their own behalf."

Lambda, which took the case over on appeal, filed its brief in the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago today, challenging a grant of summary judgment on October 5, 1995 by a federal judge in the Western District of Wisconsin. Joining Lambda in a friend-of-the-court brief are the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, the national office of Parents and Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and Horizons Community Services of Chicago.

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