A student goes public about the headline-making violence and discrimination LGBT youth endure at North Bend High School.
North Bend has been my home for my entire life. I was born in this town and raised here by two loving parents who always did their best to teach me right from wrong. And so, for the past couple years, I have been trying so hard to end school-sanctioned discrimination of LGBT students at North Bend High School.
I faced harassment and discrimination so many times at school, from both students and staff members. And my partner at the time, Liv, was physically attacked at and around school by people who also yelled anti-gay slurs at her. The other open LGBT students I knew also had terrible experiences, including one of my best friends who the principal forced to read the bible at school as a punishment.
My parents raised me to always be honest. They told me that if you tell the truth, people will trust you, people will believe you, and people will follow you. They raised me to know that if you’re an honest person, you’re a strong person. And they always told me that if you’re strong enough to stand up when someone else isn’t, you should stand up for them. That’s why I filed my complaints with the Oregon Department of Education.
Simply put: All students deserve to feel safe at school. We all just want to learn and be ourselves. We deserve better from the North Bend School District.
Now let me tell you about just a small portion of what happened during my time at North Bend High School.
The first day of my junior year, I walked into school holding Liv’s hand. Liv was my girlfriend at the time and is still my partner in this fight to end discrimination. It was intimidating and scary being the only openly gay couple in the entire school. I didn’t know how anybody was going to react, or what they were going to say or do. There were odd stares and whispered slurs behind our backs, but I grew more confident when I learned to not care what people think.
But then then things started happening where I felt my physical safety was in jeopardy, and the principal’s response - nothing - was disheartening.
I’ll always remember when Liv and I were headed to off campus for lunch one day. We were walking in the school’s back parking lot when all of a sudden the principal’s son sped right toward us in his car. We thought he was going to hit us. Instead, he drove right up next to us, yelled out “faggot!” and veered away. It was terrifying.
At that moment, it just kind of switched something in me. I realized that discrimination and people’s opinions here are really so strong that somebody could get hurt. I could get hurt just for being myself. I eventually reported this but was not surprised when nothing happened. He’s popular, a football player, and his father is the same administrator who repeatedly failed to take my complaints seriously, the same administrator who forced my best friend to read the Bible. I even reported online harassment to the principal after another student made fun of how I looked and told me to kill myself. Instead of protecting me, the principal made me sign the bullying policy. It was as if I was in trouble for reporting feeling unsafe. It seemed like he really didn’t care about my safety.
I reported discriminatory incidents to the principal so many times, way more than I can mention here. Nothing ever changed. The discrimination wasn’t an isolated incident and it didn’t just come from students. When I told the principal that my civics teacher called me out in front of the whole class and said same-sex marriage was “pretty much the same thing” as marrying a dog, the principal told me “everybody has the right to their own opinion.” The next day, the teacher apologized, but as I walked away, he said “don’t go marrying your dog.”
After so many complaints to the administration and so little change, we needed another tactic. We decided to tell the Oregon Department of Education what was going on. And that’s led us to here, trying to hold the school district accountable, no matter how hard they try to deny there is a widespread problem.
Liv and I may be the public faces in this case but it’s about way more than us. While I have graduated and won’t experience any change firsthand, I’m still fighting because I know there are other LGBT students who don’t feel safe at school. And there will be more to come.
School administrators can no longer be indifferent to physical and verbal harassment of LGBT students by students and staff. Authority figures shouldn’t use religion to mistreat vulnerable students. And the administrators, staff, teachers, and students in North Bend all need real training on LGBT rights.
I want young LGBT students everywhere to know that they’re not alone, that there’s something you can do to better your situation. If you can do something even miniscule, something tiny, to better your situation or someone else’s situation, you should do that. You have the ability to make change and it’s really rewarding. There are people out there who will support you so, when you’re ready, you should speak up.