Minnesota School Pays $25K for Teachers’ Anti-Gay Harassment

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Aug 14, 2009

A Minnesota high school settled with the family of a student who was allegedly subjected to anti-gay harassment--from two teachers.

The family reportedly received $25,000 from the school in the settlement, although the school denied any wrongdoing.

But an investigation launched by the Minnesota Dept. of Human Rights determined that "jokes, comments and innuendos led to a hostile, abusive environment," a press release issued by GLBT youth advocacy group the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) said.

Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, was quoted in the release as saying, "The reports of what this student endured from his teachers are horrific."

The student in question was reportedly subjected to public and humiliating comments made by teacher Diane Cleveland, who allegedly made jokes about the student's perceived sexuality in front of the class.

Among other allegations, Cleveland reportedly remarked that the student 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 student. "It's OK if [the student perceived to be gay] watches this, because he isn't into that sort of thing anyway," Cleveland reportedly said, allegedly adding, "maybe if it was a guy."

Another teacher, Walker Filson, reportedly told students searching for participants for a fashion show to "Take [the student perceived to be gay] because he enjoys wearing women's clothes."

Filson allegedly added, "He would love to be in the show."

Whereas the student finally transferred elsewhere, the teachers kept their jobs at the high school.

Byard spoke out against teachers serving as role models for hate. "Teachers should be working to stop students from these types of hateful behaviors not encouraging them by modeling the behavior.

"That the school allegedly allowed harassment by students to continue even after it was made aware of the teachers' behavior is unthinkable," Byard continued.

"We can only hope that the school district will do everything it can to ensure that no other student will ever have to go through the dehumanizing harassment this student suffered."

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 the GLSEN release, "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."

The brief also noted a lack of safe schools policies and resources for GLBT youth, including gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs).

The GLSEN release observed that a number of similar cases nationwide have been settled in favor of harassed GLBT youth.

"Fifteen Expensive Reasons, a document from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLSEN, highlights 15 such cases," the release noted.

The Minneaspolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune covered the story in an Aug. 13 article, offering further quotes attributed to Cleveland and Filson.

The newspaper account reported that Clevelend allegedly commented that the student's "fence swings both ways," whereas Filson also allegedly made a remark about the boy liking older men when the student decided to write a paper about Abraham Lincoln.

The article also quoted Filson as saying on Aug. 12, "I have no comment at this time."

Cleveland was also alleged to have asked the student whether we would like another student perceived to be gay to accompany him to the restoom.

"Would you like to have [the other student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?" Cleveland is alleged to have asked the boy, making a reference to former Idaho senator Larry Craig, who was arrested after allegedly approaching an undercover officer for gay sex in a men's room.

Craig reportedly tapped his foot as a signal to the officer, who was in the adjacent stall.

The article noted that although the state's Department of Human Rights had received thousands of complaints, only four involved harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation in a school setting.

The school district's Secondary Technical Education Program director, Ginny Karbowsky, was quoted in the article as saying, "This should not have happened to this student or to any student."

Added Karbowski, "I was shocked and saddened when I heard these allegations."

Karbowski noted that bullying and harassment are taken seriously. "When students come to our office and report any allegations, or even gossip, we deal with it immediately," the article quoted her as saying.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2009-08-14 17:44:10

    The boy has now been identified and he thinks the "teachers should be kicked out."

  • , 2009-08-18 21:09:04

    Fall Out Continues For Gay Slur Harassing Teachers A local paper’s editorial asks: "Why should they ever be allowed again to teach?" The light-handed punishments dispensed in this case (example: it’s been widely reported that teacher Diane Cleveland was allowed to call in sick for half her suspension) is entirely inappropriate despite the school district’s explanation that the abusing teachers must be given a chance to change their behavior. Sometimes harassment behavior is so egregious that this option is not possible. Teaching kids hate is inexcusable - no matter who the object of hate is - and particularly if it is based purely on perception and rumor. Obviously, the spotlight on this case is increasing the discomfort level at the school. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board issued a letter to the community regarding the case basically saying they have done all they will do about this case. Frankly, any school board that believes teachers who tag-team teach hate in the classroom should not be terminated is a school board hiding behind their own veil of hate or complete ignorance. Let us hope the latter can be corrected. Hate has no place in education.

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