Saturday, April 11, 2009

New York High School Sued Over Antigay Harassment

Lambda Legal has filed suit against Indian River High School (in upstate New York) on behalf of Charlie Pratt and his sister, Ashley Petranchuk. The lawsuit alleges that Charlie suffered harassment and abuse at the hands of his peers while school officials failed to intervene. Lambda charges that the school's anti-gay bias is also evidenced in the principal's refusal to let Ashley start a gay-straight alliance to support her brother.

This article in Outcome (Buffalo's Gay Newspaper) describes the harassment Charlie endured:
Students attacked him relentlessly with antigay and sexist slurs including names like "faggot," "sissy," "queer," and "fudgepacker," often in the presence of teachers who failed to intervene. Students also pushed him into walls and lockers, threatened him, threw food and other objects at him, spat on him, and vandalized his locker with antigay slurs. Staff members at the high school joined the harassment by ridiculing Charlie with stereotypically effeminate gestures in front of other students.

Then-principal James Kettrick – now the district’s superintendent ­­ refused to take appropriate action, and instead told Charlie and his parents, Bobbi and Todd Petranchuk, that Charlie should "tone it down" to avoid harassment. The principal also refused Bobbi Petranchuk’s request to train teachers to address antigay bullying, and he failed to change the school’s written policies to match state anti-harassment laws covering sexual orientation. Left with no other options, Charlie’s parents withdrew him from school for his own protection.
Lambda claims that the school's conduct violates the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, as well as Title IX and New York State's antidiscrimination law. With respect to the Title IX claim, this case seems like a slam dunk. Telling the victim to "tone it down" seems to me a clear example of "deliberate indifference" to known harassment.