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Mother of bullied gay teen files wrongful death lawsuit against Calif. school

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
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Just days after federal investigators concluded that a California middle school failed to “adequately investigate” the bullying of a gay teen who killed himself after enduring years of anti-gay harassment, the boy’s mother on Tuesday filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district.

Wendy Walsh claimed the Tehachapi Unified School District in Tehachapi, Calif., didn’t protect her son, 13-year-old Seth Walsh, from being bullied for being gay.

On Sept. 19, 2010, Seth was found unconscious and not breathing, after he had tried to hang himself from a tree branch. Seth died on Sept. 28 after spending 9 days on life support.

According to the complaint, Seth left behind a suicide note that read:

“I love you. Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. I know this will bring much pain. But I will hopefully be in a better place than this shit hole. Please, put my body in burial and visit my used body. And make sure to make the school feel like shit for bringing you this sorrow. This life was a pleasure, mostly having you guys to bring me through the pain. Hopefully I become the universe.”

The suit names as defendants Tehachapi Unified Superintendent Richard Swanson, Jacobsen Middle School Principal Susan Ortega, Vice Principal Paul Kaminski, and four teachers, and alleges Seth was continuously verbally and physically assaulted for a period of more than two years because of his sexual orientation.

On Friday, federal investigators from the civil rights divisions of both the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice concluded the Tehachapi Unified School District did not adequately investigate or otherwise respond to complaints from Seth’s family or Seth himself.

The report, based on interviews with Seth’s family, friends, school staff and more than 75 classmates, found that Seth was harassed by peers because he was gay, which “interfered with his education” and forced him into homeschooling to escape the torment.

According to the Departments of Education and Justice:

“The United States concludes that the Student [Seth Walsh] was subjected to persistent, pervasive, and often severe sex-based harassment that resulted in a hostile educational environment of which the District has notice, and that the district failed to take steps sufficient to stop the harassment, to prevent its recurrence, or to eliminate the hostile environment.”

The investigation was ordered by the office of the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan following a civil rights complaint filed by Wendy Walsh.

Walsh is seeking compensation for wrongful death damages, medical expenses and punitive damages.

Seth was one of at least six teens who committed suicide in September 2010 as a result of bullying for their actual or perceived sexual orientation, bringing national attention to the adversity and intolerance endured by LGBT youth.

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