Oregon high school faces hearing for anti-gay discrimination
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An openly gay couple was walking in their Oregon high school parking lot when the principal's son drove up, veered away at the last second and shouted an anti-gay slur at the two girls. In class, a teacher equated same-sex marriage with bestiality.
The girls complained to school officials in the coastal town of North Bend, but they said the harassment continued, including from the officials themselves. The school police officer even told one girl she's going to hell.
Now, the Oregon Department of Education is planning a hearing week after finding that allegations of discrimination appeared legitimate. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon represents the two girls. The state could yank part or all of its funding for the school district if it is found to violate anti-discrimination laws.
The case underscores that, even in a generally liberal state with an openly bisexual governor who advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, inequality persists.
"LGBTQ students in North Bend, Oregon have been harassed, threatened, bullied and assaulted just for being who they are," said ACLU of Oregon Legal Director Mat dos Santos. "What is worse is that when these students turned to the adults in charge to protect them, the school administrators, teachers and staff ignored their pleas for help."
The North Bend School District's Facebook page was inundated by comments, most of them harshly critical, after the district posted a statement saying it disputes many of the state's findings and will present evidence to rebut them.
Dos Santos says the two — one a senior and the other a 2017 alumna — are brave young women who have made it their mission to end the mistreatment of gay students in the town of 10,000, located 175 miles (280 kilometers) southwest of Portland.
A closed hearing with school district officials, the two young women and the parties' attorneys is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in North Bend, an education department spokeswoman, Victoria Nguyen, said. An investigation by the state education department has already found that the school district may have discriminated on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.
Dos Santos said he was in North Bend on Monday with the two young women, trying to get the case settled ahead of the hearing.
Liv Funk, one of the young women who complained to the state education department, said she was initially too nervous to tell school administrators about the harassment, that at one point involved violence when a student hit her with a skateboard.
"I didn't trust the administration, especially after learning the principal made my friend, who was openly bisexual, read the Bible," she said.
The ACLU said both LGBTQ students and straight students have been forced to recite Bible passages as punishment in the school.
The former student who filed the complaint with Funk, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Hailey, recalled that her civics teacher had called her out in front of the whole class and said same-sex marriage was the same as marrying a dog. When she complained to the principal, he responded that "everybody has the right to their own opinion," Hailey said.
"Simply put: All students deserve to feel safe at school. We all just want to learn and be ourselves," Hailey said.