News (USA)

SPLC alleges Miss. school district allowed gay students to be bullied, harassed

JACKSON, Miss. — An advocacy group said Thursday that gay and lesbian students at a south Mississippi school are subjected to bullying and harassment from classmates and faculty.

The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter Thursday to the Moss Point School District on behalf of Destin Holmes, a former student who says she was bullied and humiliated at Magnolia Junior High School in the city of Moss Point.

Destin Holmes

Destin claims that in the first three days she was enrolled at Magnolia Junior High, she was repeatedly referred to as “he” by teachers, even though she repeatedly told them that she was a “she.”

Throughout the school year, teachers and students called Destin “it,” “queer” and “he-she,” she said.

Teachers allegedly denied Destin access to the girls’ restroom, and Destin claims that one teacher even refused to allow her to participate in a classroom activity where teams were divided by gender.

The teacher’s reason? Destin was “in between.”

Destin and her family said school administrators did not stop the bullying, which happened last year while she was an eighth grade student. They also say that when she complained to school officials in March 2012, a principal used a gay slur for lesbians and said they shouldn’t attend the school.

“I don’t want a dyke in this school,” the principal allegedly said.

Destin, 16, said she’s being home-schooled now because she didn’t want to go back to Magnolia under those conditions.

The SPLC’s demand, stated in a letter sent to district officials today, comes after students asked the organization to investigate rampant harassment within the district’s schools. The investigation found that students – and even faculty members – have regularly targeted LGBT students and those perceived as LGBT.

“Students face enough obstacles in school without also enduring violence and abuse for simply being different,” said Sam Wolfe, senior staff attorney for the SPLC’s LGBT Rights Project. “They are entitled by law to attend school in an environment where they are not singled out and tormented because of their sexual orientation or gender nonconformity.”

The letter notes that school officials “routinely ignore severe and pervasive anti-LGBT harassment.” School officials often blame students for the harassment they have experienced – even punishing them for defending themselves. Several LGBT students said school administrators told them to simply “suck it up” after they reported bullying.

A school district official, Stephanie Packer, said in an emailed statement later Thursday that the district would have no comment at this time.

“This is currently an ongoing investigation,” the statement added.

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