After months of lobbying by student groups and an incident that resulted in the suspension of two students, Wichita schools are finally considering an anti-discrimination policy that explicitly prohibits harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.
The incident began when a gay student at Metro-Midtown Alternative High School warned his straight friend of rumors regarding his sexual orientation. The 17-year-old gay student approached his friend in the bathroom to tell him the news. “So I told him, ‘Some people are saying you’re gay, but don’t worry. I told them it wasn’t true,’” the young man said.1 In reaction to the discovery, the subject of the rumor had a violent outburst in class and was subsequently expelled.
Officials also suspended the gay student, and pressed for expulsion, claiming that his interaction with the other youth in the bathroom amounted to harassment and that he contributed to his friend’s angry eruption.2 The gay student maintains his innocence and believes he was targeted because of his orientation. “I am openly gay, and some people don't like that. But I never bothered anybody,” the young man said. “All I want is to go back to school.”3
At the meeting that would decide his academic fate, his heterosexual friend testified on his behalf. Charges were dropped and the defendant was allowed to return to school, though he decided to transfer to a different school because of the incident.
Since November, the Gay-Straight Alliance and other student groups in the district have been lobbying the school board to cover sexual orientation in the district’s anti-discrimination policy. The students describe hearing gay slurs like “faggot” in the halls regularly. The recent incident has also elevated the importance of explicitly covering perceived sexual orientation as well. “It's like you can't be straight and have a gay friend,” said the gay student involved in the incident referring to the rumors and teasing aimed at his friend.4
District officials originally responded to the students by reiterating that the general anti-discrimination policy covers sexual orientation. “Harassment is harassment, and we write that broadly to apply to all students,” a spokesperson said.5
However, the day of the 17-year-old’s exoneration, a school board member said they would listen to concerns about the policy. “I feel like our policy, as it’s written, covers discrimination of any order,” she said. “However, if adding a line would alleviate a level of concern, that certainly wouldn’t hurt anything.”6 The board has also acknowledged plans to implement new anti-bullying training for school staff that includes specific material about sexual orientation.7
- “Gay Student Harassed Straight Friend, School Says,” BGay.com, 27 March 2008, accessed 23 April 2008, <www.bgay.com/news/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=296&Itemid=23>.
- Suzanne Perez Tobias, “District might consider gay harassment policy,” Wichita Eagle, 2 April 2008, accessed 23 April 2008, <www.kansas.com/209/story/359760.html>.
- Randy Scholfield, “Not 'gay' to want respect in schools,” Wichita Eagle, 4 April 2008, accessed 6 April 2008, <www.kansas.com/203/story/361710.html>.