A mom sticking up for her 14-year-old daughter, who attorneys say was senselessly kicked out of gym class simply for being gay, represents a powerful and encouraging new trend:
More and more parents are learning very early on that their children are gay and are unabashedly demanding that those kids be treated with respect.
'I would do anything for my own kid,' says Amelia Massey of Banning, Calif., a rural community about an hour from Los Angeles. 'Ashly is a person like everybody else.'
Amelia has long been comfortable around gay people. Both she and her husband were supportive when Ashly told them at 13 that she's gay. So, the next year, when Amelia felt Ashly was being discriminated against by school officials, the 39-year-old mother didn't cower in embarrassment. Instead, like a protective momma bear, she instinctively fought back.
Taking a cue from other supportive parents, Amelia didn't just get mad, she sued. Her lawsuit alleges that, for a week and a half, eighth-grader Ashly was ordered to sit in the principal's office rather than attend gym class. The suit is the latest warning to school officials that they must ensure gay students aren't harassed or otherwise mistreated.
School officials ought to have already learned that costly lesson. In 1996, Jamie Nabozny won nearly $1 million in damages from Wisconsin high school officials found liable by a federal jury for ignoring increasingly violent attacks by anti-gay bullies. A year later, the U.S. Department of Education warned schools that they can lose federal funds if they don't stop sexual harassment of gay students. And in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools can be held liable if principals react with 'deliberate indifference' to student-on-student sexual harassment.
Once, being a gay young person almost invariably meant trying to hide the truth from family members. But times are indeed changing. A wonderful new generation of parents like Amelia Massey is much more likely than its elders to be so unprejudiced that children know they can safely share the truth with them right away.
Amelia wisely says: 'Ashly has to live this way (being gay) the rest of her life. If you are 13 or 14, you have to start preparing for life. You need to feel good about (yourself), face the public. You can't walk around fearful. Fear won't make you a successful person. You have to stand up and be strong.' She advises others parents to tell their gay kids: 'I don't care what others say. You are a wonderful person, and we support you.'
Ashly says that last March, she was in the gym locker room when a friend told another girl that Ashley is gay and the entire class heard the exchange. The next day, she says, her gym teacher started making her sit in the principal's office rather than attend class. Hurt and embarrassed, Ashly initially didn't tell her mother.
Ultimately, Amelia Massey intervened, but the damage had been done: Ashly says friends had turned against her. 'In front of teachers, they would be like, 'There is the fat dyke,' and the teachers acted like they didn't hear anything,' says Ashly, now 15. 'I got depressed, and I didn't want to go to school. I felt like scum, and it was very degrading.'
(The school district's superintendent declined to return my phone calls.)
Amelia Massey searched the Internet to find the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which informed her that she did indeed have state and federal grounds on which to fight back. California is among the first states to explicitly outlaw anti-gay discrimination by public school officials.
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