A 14-year-old lesbian student in Kansas has succeeded in getting her school district to change its policies towards LGBTQ students after she refused to silently accept her bus driver’s homophobic discrimination. The bus driver and the school’s principal also lost their jobs after the student and her family filed a Title IX complaint among the many changes that came about because a lesbian teen stood up for herself.
Izzy Dieker was riding the bus home this past January 27 from North Lyon County Elementary School where she was in eighth grade. Other students were leaning out into the aisle and using profanity, but the bus driver, Kristi Gadino, didn’t seem to care much about the language until Dieker said that she’s a lesbian.
That’s when Gadino pulled over and wrote up Dieker for “unacceptable language,” being rude, and not switching seats when told. When the teen talked to Principal Corey Wiltz, he told her that it was “inappropriate” to use the word “lesbian” near young students and she was suspended from riding the bus.
Her family filed a Title IX complaint and an investigation found that there was a video of everything that happened that the principal didn’t even review to find out that the bus driver wasn’t telling the truth. Moreover, he still believed it was “inappropriate” to use the word “lesbian” in front of other children.
In the video, other students on the bus used profanity and hate speech like “gay-assed motherfucker,” “jerk me off, daddy,” “touch my dick,” “fucking n*****,” “what the fuck,” “kill you,” and “stop putting your fucking camera in my face,” according to the report.
But Gadino didn’t seem to care about anyone’s language until Dieker told a friend, “I’m a lesbian.”
“Stop now,” Gadino told her.
“It’s true,” the teen responded.
“I don’t care, watch your language,” Gadino said.
“Yes, I speak English,” Dieker said.
Gadino pulled over and went to the back of the bus. “Front row.”
“I didn’t say anything,” Dieker said.
“Really?” Gadino responded. “Who said they were lesbian?”
“Wasn’t anything wrong with that,” the teen said.
“I’ve got little kids up here,” the driver said. “Do you think these little kindergartners need to know what that word means?”
The video shows that Dieker followed Gadino to the front of the bus.
The driver lied about the incident in her report, saying that Dieker said that she was a “fucking lesbian,” continued to use profanity even after being told to stop, and didn’t follow her to the front of the bus. Principal Wiltz didn’t look at the video before siding with the bus driver and telling Dieker not to use the word “lesbian.”
A teacher heard what happened and went to Wiltz to talk about it, asking the principal, “If she had said, ‘I’m straight,’ would we be here?”
“No, because it’s not inappropriate,” Wiltz responded.
In the weeks that followed the incident, a school librarian who made rainbow pins for teachers to wear in support of Dieker was fired, although he was not told that he was being fired in connection to the incident. A coach, a social worker, a cook, and three teachers resigned in protest.
Dieker was the talk of the school for a time, and she said it “kind of shocked me” that there were boys at the school who took the principal’s side and used it to torment her with homophobic comments.
She had to switch classrooms and get driven to her school by her parents even after her suspension ended to avoid the same bus driver and students.
Patrick Stevenson is one of the teachers who resigned following the incident and he told the Kansas Reflector, “I love the kid because she is so stinking smart.” He said that boys at the school told anti-LGBTQ jokes because of Wiltz’s actions.
Dieker’s family filed a Title IX complaint and an independent investigation was launched, although her parents say they didn’t know what the investigation was doing because of a lack of communication.
The investigator released their official report in May, finding that both Wiltz and Gadino were responsible for sexual harassment of Dieker in violation of Title IX, which bans discrimination in education. President Joe Biden made it clear in an executive order earlier this year that Title IX applies to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Their actions “reflected that they fundamentally disapproved of her sexual orientation and, quite possibly, her as well…. The student would likely internalize their disgust and general disapproval.”
The independent investigator’s report also said that it wasn’t an “isolated problem” but a “pervasive” part of the “school environment.”
The report recommended disciplinary action for Gadino and Wiltz, but Gadino resigned in July. In January, Wiltz had decided to leave his position as principal at the end of the school year and take an administrative position in another school district. That offer was rescinded after the independent investigation.
Dieker’s family got the ACLU of Kansas involved, who argued that in addition to violating federal anti-discrimination law, the district violated Dieker’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The ACLU of Kansas said that the school needs to provide more training on LGBTQ issues before the school year starts and to reform its Title IX investigation process.
The district at first hired an attorney to appeal the independent investigation’s report, but it lost that appeal. Now it’s saying that it will address the issues, providing training for all staff on how to be “welcoming to all” students and contacting a trainer recommended by the ACLU. They will also put their anti-discrimination policies online and display them in school and provide more information to parents on its Title IX investigation process.
The school district’s summer newsletter that gets mailed to all residents in the district reiterated the anti-discrimination policy.
“Our school district is committed to providing a learning environment free from discrimination,” said superintendent Robert Blair.
“It’s been really stressful, to be honest, and it kind of impacted my whole school life,” Dieker said about the discrimination and its repercussions.
“It made me really happy that the truth got out there, because Wiltz and the bus driver hadn’t been very truthful about the whole thing, and it was kind of messing up everything.”
LGBTQ advocates in the state credited Dieker and her family with being willing to speak out since incidents like these rarely lead to positive change.
“If she hadn’t spoken to the media, nothing would have been done about this and it would have all been brushed under the rug,” said Sharon Brett of the ACLU of Kansas.
“Izzy and her family were unique in that they are courageous and ready to speak out,” Liz Hamor of Equality Kansas said.
“I think it happens probably weekly in schools all around Kansas, especially the rural areas where these biases are very persuasive and these words are very taboo,” she continued. “People just ignore it. People who experience it just want it to go away.”
She said she worked with a student in another district and that the principal there laughed off the problem, saying, “There’s no homophobia in our school.”
Dieker is starting high school this coming school year.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Liz Hamor was referring to Principal Wiltz as laughing off homophobia in his school, when in fact she was referring to a different principal. We regret the error.