(Indianapolis, IN, August 31, 2012)—Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Waples & Hanger filed a federal lawsuit challenging Indianapolis Public Schools’ (IPS) discriminatory treatment and failure to protect an openly gay former student who faced severe and relentless harassment at Arsenal Technical High School (Tech) throughout the 2011-2012 school year. Rather than address the constant harassment and abuse suffered by 17-year-old Dynasty Young, school administrators blamed the harassment on Young’s gender nonconforming clothes and “flamboyant” behavior. Ultimately, IPS expelled Dynasty instead of taking effective measures to protect him from the harassment.
Before moving to Indianapolis in 2011, Dynasty was a happy, outgoing student who loved school and never had any major problems. But immediately after beginning classes at Tech High School, he encountered constant abuse from students who harassed and threatened him because of his gender nonconformity and perceived sexual orientation. Students called Dynasty a “fag,” spat at him, and threw rocks and glass bottles at him.
Dynasty and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, repeatedly reported the harassment to Tech administrators, but the school administrators took no effective measures to protect him, and the abuse continued. Administrators, including Tech Principal Larry Yarrell, responded to the requests for help by blaming Dynasty for being gender non-conforming. In May 2012, Yarrell told the Indianapolis Star: “If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say.”
As the 2011-2012 school year progressed, the harassment worsened, and Dynasty fell into depression. He was unable to eat properly, lost a great deal of weight, and dreaded going to school. Increasingly fearful for her son’s safety, Grimes gave her son a self-protection flashlight, a small device that emits a loud noise, a light, and a weak electric charge. On April 16, 2012, six students surrounded Dynasty to attack him. He held the device in the air and activated it. The noise caused the aggressors to leave without assaulting him. But instead of locating the students who had threatened to attack Dynasty, Tech administrators suspended Dynasty for trying to prevent the attack and later expelled him.
In addition to the physical and emotional harm he experienced as a result of the bullying and the discrimination he experienced from IPS administrators who refused to take any meaningful steps to protect him, Dynasty was unable to complete the spring semester of his 11th-grade year at Tech High School, and will need to make up any necessary credits to graduate on time in 2013. He has recently enrolled in Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school not affiliated with IPS, where he is taking extra classes in an effort to try graduate on schedule.
“All students should be able to get an education without fearing for their physical safety, and they should be able to rely on school administrators to protect them when abuse does occur,” said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Christopher F. Stoll, one of the attorneys representing Dynasty and his mother. “It is outrageous that school officials who were entrusted with their students’ safety and education blamed Dynasty for the abuse he suffered, and eventually expelled him from school, instead of accepting their responsibility to protect him from harm.”
The lawsuit asserts claims for violations of federal civil rights law and the U.S. Constitution based on IPS’s deliberate indifference to the harassment and abuse Dynasty experienced and its discriminatory treatment of him based on his gender and sexual orientation. The suit further alleges that IPS punished Dynasty and failed to address the harassment in part due to his failure to comply with Tech officials’ demands that he change his appearance and style of dress, in violation of his rights to freedom of expression and liberty under the First Amendment and the federal Due Process Clause. The suit also challenges IPS’s failure to consider Dynasty’s appeal of his expulsion as required by its own internal procedures and the Constitution.
“I want to make sure no other student in the Indianapolis Public Schools ever has to go through the kind of abuse that I went through,” said Dynasty. “I am hoping this will get IPS to start treating kids like me with respect and really do something to protect their students.”
Grimes added: “It’s important to get justice for Dynasty for the damage that IPS did to him, but it’s even more important that IPS make some real changes in the way it deals with bullying and harassment. We hope IPS will be willing to sit down and talk with us soon about ways they can improve their policies and training so that kids like Dynasty can feel safe in IPS schools. My son is a wonderful, sweet, talented young man. He deserves a chance to attend school and learn without being terrorized by other students and told that the school will not protect him unless he changes who he is.”
Said Indianapolis attorney Richard A. Waples, the former legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, who also represents Mr. Young: “It is important that someone steps forward to stand up for these students who are harassed and discriminated against. Too many of these kids feel no one is there for them and lose hope. We want to help put a stop to this type of harassment and get our schools to protect these children.”
Dynasty and Grimes are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and Waples & Hanger.