A sixth teen in Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District alleging that school staff members did not do enough to prevent or cease the bullying she endured because she is gay.
In the lawsuit, an unnamed lesbian student alleges that she was called slurs (such as “faggot” and “dyke”) and punched in the stomach after she began attending Jackson Middle School in September 2010. The student says she reported the harassment to teachers and administrators, but they did nothing to protect her.
The suit is a companion to an earlier case filed on July 21 on behalf of five current and former students by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SVLC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). In that suit, the plaintiffs allege that they endured slurs and were stabbed with pencils, pushed into walls, shoved into lockers and even urinated on by fellow classmates because of real or perceived sexual orientation.
The actions taken by officials in the schools and district in response to the bullying were “grossly inadequate,” the lawsuit alleges, and in some cases, students were told to simply “lay low,” ignore the harassment or “stay out of people’s way.” For their part, school officials have said they are against bullying.
Each lawsuit aims to repeal the district’s policy on sexual orientation. The policy requires that staff members “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions” in the course of their professional duties. The SVLC and NCLR allege that the policy acts as a “gag” on teachers who would otherwise defend or advocate for gay rights and further stigmatizes homosexual students and promotes harassment.
In addition to the policy in Minnesota, eight other states, including Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, have neutrality policies similar to the one mandated by Anoka-Hennepin School District. Such policies, Eliza Byard, director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “are clearly standing in the way of adults doing their job when it comes to protecting students.”
According to a 2009 report by GLSEN, nearly 9 out of 10 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students experienced harassment at school in the previous year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. While the legality of the neutrality policy will be hammered out by courts, the argument presented in the cases and by gay-rights activists does carry some weight. After all, it’s tough the prevent bullying against gay students if you can’t talk about the root issues at hand.
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Kayla Webley is a Writer-Reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @kaylawebley or on Facebook at facebook.com/kaylalwebley. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.