COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio teen who was brutally beaten by a fellow high school student last fall because of his sexual orientation, has teamed with his mother to become activists against anti-LGBT bullying.
The October 2011 attack on Zach King — then known as Zach Huston, a freshman at Unioto High School in Chillicothe, Ohio — was captured on video using a cell phone, and later posted to Facebook. The assault sparked national outrage and drew even more attention to the issue of school bullying.
That’s when Zach and his mother, Becky Collins, went from being victims to becoming activists.
Following the attack, and with the help of the ACLU of Ohio, Zach and Collins sued the Union-Scioto Local School District, and claimed that school officials had “fostered an atmosphere” that permitted the bullying of LGBT students, while disregarding his reports of harassment.
Earlier this month, the school district’s Board of Education agreed to settle the lawsuit for $35,000 — while admitting no wrongdoing — and agreed to make changes to the way it handles harassment and bullying of LGBT students.
Since the attack, Zach — who said he has been bullied repeatedly since second grade — and his mother have told their stories to dozens of groups of teens and adults around the state, including at an ACLU Ohio conference last Friday in Columbus.
Zach and Collins were part of a panel called “It’s Getting Better,” where they shared their story and talked about what can be done to prevent and react to bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth.
“It’s empowering to do this, to share my story with other people,” Zach said after the panel. “And I hope they will learn and one day, there will be a lot less bullies than there are now.”
Raphael Davis-Williams, an ACLU board member and civil rights attorney, said Zach’s story is far more common than most people believe.
“Sexual orientation and issues around sexual orientation are still viewed as the only acceptable form of discrimination,” said Davis-Williams.
In addition to speaking on the panel, Zach and his mom were honored by the ACLU for their contributions over the last year, receiving the organization’s Flame of Liberty award.
“They have been so clear about their desire to see broader change in school systems,” said Chris Link, executive director of the Ohio ACLU.
Collins told those in attendance to keep reaching out to teachers, principals and other parents if their child is bullied, and if that doesn’t get a response, go to the police to report verbal or physical harassment.
“The more people that stand up, the more it makes a difference,” said Zach. “Everybody’s different, but they should be treated the same.”