(Indianapolis, IN, August 7, 2012)—On Monday, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) ended the expulsion of Dynasty Young, a former Arsenal Technical High School student who was expelled after school leaders failed to protect him from relentless anti-gay bullying, but refused to permit him to return to the school or any traditional high school in the district. Instead, in a letter signed by Chief of Staff Dexter Suggs, the district assigned Young to the New Horizons Alternative School, which describes itself on its website as a school for “students who cannot adjust to a traditional school setting.”
“It is shameful that Indianapolis Public Schools still has not accepted responsibility for failing to provide a safe environment for Dynasty,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Senior Staff Attorney Christopher F. Stoll, who is representing Young and his mother, Chelisa Grimes. “Rather than acknowledging its duty to protect students like Dynasty from harassment, IPS has said that if he returns, he will be sent to an alternative school for students who are unable to adjust to a traditional school setting. The problem here is not with Dynasty—it is with a school district whose response to repeated reports of severe bullying has been to blame the victim instead of addressing the problem.”
Young, who is 17 and gay, was expelled in the Spring 2012 semester of his 11th-grade year at Tech High School after enduring relentless anti-gay bullying throughout the school year. The bullying started immediately after he began attending the school, with some students telling teachers that they didn’t want to sit next to “that fag,” and others spitting on him and throwing rocks and bottles at him on his way home after school. Young and Grimes repeatedly reported the harassment to school administrators, but the school administrators did nothing effective to protect him, and the bullying continued. Administrators, including Principal Larry Yarrell, responded to the requests for help by blaming Young for being openly gay and gender non-conforming. In May, 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.”
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, six students surrounded Young to attack him. Young held the device in the air and activated it. The noise caused the aggressors to leave without assaulting him. Instead of locating the students who had threatened to attack Young, Tech administrators suspended Young and later expelled him for the remainder of the school year as well as the fall semester.
As a result of the expulsion, Young was unable to complete his spring semester at Tech High School and will need to make up any necessary credits to graduate. Young has recently enrolled in Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school not affiliated with IPS.
According to a 2010 study by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, gender non-conforming youth are at high risk of school harassment, which can have a lasting impact on their long term health and well being. The study found that gender non-conforming youth who experience high levels of school victimization suffer “dramatically elevated levels of suicide attempts, risk for HIV infection, STD diagnoses, and depression.” The study urges school districts to address this problem as “an educational and public health priority.”
Young added: “As excited as I am to be starting school, I am worried about all the kids who are still in IPS schools and experiencing the same type of daily verbal and physical attacks that I experienced with no help from school leaders. No one should be treated the way I was treated, and the district needs to do something to keep all students safe.”
Grimes added: “IPS still has not admitted that what they did to my son was wrong, and that’s not okay. Instead of protecting him, they told him he needs to change who he is so he isn’t targeted, and that is unacceptable. No one—especially a young student—should ever be told they must change who they are or ‘tone down’ the way they dress to avoid being hated and attacked. The district failed to protect my son, and there are still lots of young students in IPS schools who won’t feel safe until the district makes some real changes.”
Young and Grimes are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Waples & Hanger.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.