COLUMBUS, Ohio — The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Monday announced it would represent the family of a Chillicothe, Ohio gay teen who was assaulted last month because of his sexual orientation. The brutal attack captured national attention when a video of the assault was later posted to Facebook.
The victim, Zach Huston — a student at Unioto High School — suffered physical injuries as a result of the beating. Hiis mother, Rebecca Collins, described the attack as hate motivated gay bashing.
At a press conference Monday, the ACLU said it was considering a wide range of legal actions to protect Zach and other students from future instances of bullying, and has invited school officials to discuss solutions before formal legal action is filed.
Collins told the local media that two of her son’s teeth were broken in the Oct. 17 attack, and that Zach, 15, may also have suffered from a concussion.
“It turns my stomach,” she said, “It’s my son … they did it just because he’s a homosexual.”
Collins said that her and Zach’s ongoing complaints about bullying at Unioto High School school were met with indifference by school officials, including one who commented that the district consists of “Bible-beaters … what can you expect?”
The ACLU is asking the Union-Scioto School District to change its anti-bullying policy to specifically include sexual orientation, increase its education of students and staff, and take steps to protect students who report bullying from retaliation.
“The school had a responsibility to protect Zach, but looked the other way for over a year while he was verbally and physically bullied,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James L. Hardiman.
“Union-Scioto School District failed to keep Zach from harm. Now, they must take proactive steps to change the culture of their school so that discrimination based on sexual orientation is no longer tolerated. It will be a long road that must begin when children are young, but can be achieved through creative and honest dialogue on the impact of bullying and discrimination.”
The accused assailant, Levi Sever, 15, has been charged with a delinquency count of assault. Ross County Prosecutor Matthew Schmidt said Sever admitted the assault in Juvenile Court, with authorities awaiting a pre-disposition investigation and victim-impact statement prior to sentencing.
The school district initially suspended Levi for three days, but later “revisited” the discipline after the video surfaced. School officials have not specified what discipline the student received.
Zach said that Levi has not returned to school since the attack.
The school district has declined to comment on the incident, citing the threat of legal action by the ACLU.
Ohio state law requires schools to adopt policies prohibiting all bullying, but does not require districts to include language explicitly protecting students for their sexual orientation or gender identity.