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New Lawsuit Claims Mississippi School District Engaged in Pervasive Anti-LGBT Bullying

Jessica Mason Pieklo

According to a new federal complaint, gender non-conforming students in one Mississippi school district faced daily abuse and harassment by fellow students and teachers.

A lawsuit filed in federal court this week accuses the Moss Point School District in Mississippi of failing to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment of students.

The lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), on behalf of student Destin Holmes, claims the harassment at Magnolia Junior High School was so bad she was eventually driven out of the district. In one instance, Holmes alleges that when she turned to school officials for help, the principal at the time called her a “pathetic fool” and said he didn’t “want a dyke in this school.” Holmes’ complained about her treatment, which sparked an investigation that revealed district students, faculty, and administrators had targeted LGBT students because of their nonconformity to gender stereotypes, as well as their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Following the investigation, the SPLC demanded the district take action to remedy the abusive and hostile climate, but the school district declined.

According to the lawsuit, the school district violated Holmes’ equal protection rights as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. In addition to Holmes’ allegations, the complaint also describes anti-LGBT bullying encountered by other district students, including the harassment of a transgender student and the assault of an openly gay male student. The complaint details allegations of how Holmes and other students perceived as LGBT were subjected to anti-LGBT slurs on a daily basis, including being physically threatened or attacked by peers. According to lawyers for the SPLC, many of the incidents happened in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, but school officials did little to stop the abuse.

The lawsuit comes the same week the Supreme Court declined an appeal of a case looking to hold a Pennsylvania school district responsible for the ongoing and repeated bullying of a high school student by a peer, and as the failure of college campuses nationwide to adequately address sexual assault on campus makes headlines almost daily.

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“We are disappointed that the district fails to see the serious harm its deliberate inaction causes its students,” said Anjali Nair, SPLC staff attorney, in a statement. “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.”

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