Destin Holmes was subjected to pervasive anti-lesbian bullying and harassment by fellow students, faculty and even administrators within the schools of Mississippi’s Moss Point School District. The harassment became so severe Destin was eventually driven out of school. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf to end the bullying and harassment in the district.
The lawsuit describes how Destin temporarily left the district in March 2012 to be homeschooled after the then-principal at Magnolia Junior High School called her a “pathetic fool” and told her, “I don’t want a dyke in this school.” It also outlines how Destin and other students perceived as gay were subjected to anti-gay slurs on a daily basis and were physically threatened or attacked by peers.
Although many of these abuses occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel did little to stop the abuse. The SPLC demanded in March 2013 that the district take immediate action to end the bullying and harassment. The demand came after an investigation found that district students, faculty and administrators targeted gay students because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and nonconformity to gender stereotypes.
Gay and lesbian youth are disproportionately “gender nonconforming” because, by definition, we buck the stereotype of who we are supposed to love. As a result of this, gay and lesbian youth are often targeted for homophobic abuse.
During Destin’s time at Magnolia Junior High School, students and district staff called her slurs such as “it,” “freak” and “he-she.” She heard such insults as many as 20 times a day. She also was denied access to the girls’ restroom by a teacher. Another teacher even refused to allow her to participate in a classroom activity where teams were divided by gender because Destin – according to the teacher – was an “in-between it.”
Even after Destin threatened suicide, school officials failed to take appropriate action. When a social worker providing mental health services for Destin met with the then-principal about the need to stop the harassment, the principal said he wouldn’t follow the social worker’s suggestions because “when you are in my school, you follow my lead since I allow you to be here.”
After leaving Magnolia Junior High School in March 2012, Destin was home-schooled until it became too much of a financial burden for her family. After returning to the district as a student at the Moss Point High School, Destin continued to face similar harassment.
The lawsuit, which asserts the district violated Destin’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, also describes anti-GLBT bullying encountered by other district students. These incidents include a transgender student who was attacked and ridiculed, as well as a gay male student assaulted by students because he was open about his orientation.
We applaud the Southern Poverty Law Center for taking steps to protect gender nonconforming youth.