I had my own experiences with being bullied in school; a not-so-whispered fag when I spoke in class — which taught me to stop speaking up; a push in the hallway, a taunt in gym class. I told myself it was just kids; mean kids, to be sure, but those I could avoid. Luckily I didn’t have teachers bullying me because how does a high school kid avoid a bullying teacher unless they just stop going to school altogether.
I first wrote about Destine Holmes back in March — see original post HERE — when the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] stepped in on her behalf with the Moss Point School District after Holmes said she was being consistently bullied by students, teachers and the administration at her school.
Last March, at a news conference, the SPLC said it hoped to work with school officials to stop the bullying of, not only Destin Holmes, but all LGBTQ students and students who were perceived as being gay. But, no agreement was reached and nothing has changed at the school or district, so this week the SPLC decided to sue the Moss Point School District to stop the anti-gay bullying and harassment.
“We are disappointed that the district fails to see the serious harm its deliberate inaction causes its students, District officials who are entrusted with the safety and education of all students not only ignored, dismissed and even blamed victims for the abusive behavior of faculty and other students, they also participated in discriminatory acts."— Anjali Nair, SPLC staff attorney
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, seeks to enforce equal protection of LGBTQ students, and names not only the Moss Point School District, but its school board, Superintendent Maggie Griffin, and Durand Payton, the former principal of Magnolia Middle School as defendants. The SPLC hopes that the district will implement new policies and procedures to help protect the LGBT student population and offer training to students and staff about bullying and LGBT students' rights.
Apparently folks need to be trained not to taunt girls like Destin Holmes for her appearance, because, you know, a girl in a ball cap is a dyke and a dyke needs to be harassed. But her harassment wasn’t just in the halls or the schoolyard, it was also in the classroom; and it wasn’t just the students — whom Destin says are a little more accepting — but it was from the teachers, too.
One day in class, a substitute teacher wrote Destin up for not following directions, and the written referral called her "he;" Holmes said the substitute knew she was female.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Last March, Destin says she experienced one of the worst cases of bullying, this time by one of her teachers. The teacher had divided the class into 2 teams — boys versus girls — for a trivia game, and she made Destin sit alone in the middle of the classroom because she was an "in-between it."
"I'm not an 'it'. I'm a person, a teenager, a human being."—Destin Holmes
The harassment finally took its toll on Destin and she threatened to commit suicide—just ‘another one’ almost. And her grandmother intervened and went to the school where she says school officials failed to take appropriate action.
When a social worker providing mental health services for Destin met with then-principal Durand Payton about the need to stop the harassment, Payton 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.”
Not such a big surprise, because when Destin had gone to Payton with her complaints his response was, "I don't want a dyke in this school."
And so Destin left Magnolia Junior High School last March and was home-schooled until it became too much of a financial burden for her family. She returned to the district, this time at Moss Point High School, but says the harassment continued.
At Moss Point High School, a teacher refused to refer to Destin with feminine pronouns and in front of the class addressed her with male pronouns instead. She maintains that teachers and students called her "it," "queer," "freak," "alien," "dyke" and "he-she," and teachers denied her access to the girls' restroom.
“I deserve to go to school where students, and especially the teachers, don’t always call me names. The district should have protected me and made sure I was learning, like the rest of the kids. Instead, the students, teachers and even principal, called me names. It shouldn’t have happened to me, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”—Destin Holmes
The lawsuit, which asserts the district has 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-LGBT 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.
Jennifer Holmes, Destin's grandmother, says she and her family have tried for over two years to work with the school to make it a safe environment for Destin, but there has been no progress, and, she says, in some cases, administrators made the climate worse for her granddaughter.
"I want her to have the best that life has to offer. That is why we are here today. It is time we all took bullying seriously, whether it comes from adults or children."—Jennifer Holmes
The Moss Point School District and teachers at Moss Point High School aren’t talking, however, claiming they could not address specific claims of the lawsuit since it's in litigation. The administration did release a statement, though, which says, in part:
"Protecting our students from acts of bullying, harassment, intimidation and threats by any individual is our highest priority. The district has in place policies and procedures to ensure that our students are free from discrimination and bullying. We, as most districts across the nation, try to ensure that students in our schools are safe and secure."
Except when the principal is one of the bullies, and the teachers harass LGBTQ students. And how can we expect the students of any school to stop bullying any other student for any other reason when the teachers and administrators are setting the example that bullying is just fine?
"I love it here, but my school experience hasn't been too great. But being bullied because of my appearance and sexual orientation is slowing me down. I wish I could go to school without being afraid to be who I am. I don't want anyone to go through what I've been through."—Destin Holmes
And no one should. How many more young kids are going to end up dead, or run out of school, because they are gay, or perceived to be gay? Or because they’re tall and skinny, or short and fat, or Black, or Latino, or have red hair, or freckles or … or … If the teachers don’t stop the bullying that they are guilty of, then we cannot expect the students to stop either.
The Mississippi Press