The district, according to the suit, failed to respond to repeated complaints that Tristan had been subjected to a constant barrage of homophobic slurs, including “gay,” “queer,” “freak,” “homo,” “fag,” “emo,” and more, reported CityPages. The suit says Tristan didn’t “conform to traditional stereotypes of masculinity,” reported the Star Tribune.
And Seehus’s lawyer argues that even though the boy did not identify as gay, bisexual or transgender, that failure constitutes discrimination against Tristan because of his perceived sexual orientation or gender expression, according to the suit.
Students would call Tristan and other boys names, said they “looked like a girl,” shoved them into lockers, knocked books out of their hands, and beat them up in the halls, “in plain view of school officials and school surveillance cameras,”according to the complaint.
The only response by district officials, according to the suit, “was to ignore, minimize and dismiss abusive behavior… Tristan’s suicide was a foreseeable result of Defendants’ failure to provide him a safe educational environment.”
Absent from all of the media reporting was the method of suicide, but an online resource of deadly crimes involving guns lists Tristan’s death in February as a result of a shooting. Many of the photos posted by the family on a memorial website show Tristan holding or being taught how to fire a rifle, starting at a young age, and it appears from the photos he and his family were avid sportsmen.
School officials did not comment on the lawsuit, but did issue a statement:
“The death of a young person is especially devastating. As educators, we work with the community to provide support to students and staff and assist with the questions and grief which accompany such a loss.
“While we can’t comment specifically on the litigation, it’s important to know that our schools endeavor to create an environment where all students are treated with respect and to validate the rights of all students to a safe and welcoming environment.
“As an organization, we’ve included community input in creating policies and practices that align with Minnesota’s Safe and Supportive Schools Act and federal harassment laws that include gender identity and inclusion. We continue to seek guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minnesota School Boards Association and the Minnesota State High School League in an ongoing effort to create safe, supportive environments for all students. Any litigation will be referred to legal counsel for review and appropriate response.”
According to the Duluth News Tribune, Seehus is seeking damages in excess of $75,000 and policy changes, including:
• requiring the district to begin mandatory training programs for staff and students relating to diversity and prevention of bullying toward LGBT students or those who are perceived to be.
• adoption of policies that instruct staff on responding to student harassment complaints as a result of the student’s sexual orientation or gender expression.
• having the district conduct student assemblies meant to address homophobia and tolerance.
• assigning a peer mediator who would address harassment and discrimination issues at school.
• maintaining records of each harassment complaint made to staff.
You can view a report on Tristan’s suicide here from KQDS-TV.