Legal Victories for Youth
In many lawsuits and other disputes, Lambda Legal has successfully argued that discrimination is a violation of LGBTQ students’ and their allies’ civil rights. The legal victories below are listed according to the following categories:
Wadington v. Holmdel Township Board of Education, New Jersey, resolved 2008
Nancy Wadington endured antigay abuse at her high school in southern New Jersey until the middle of 11th grade, when she had to leave school for her own safety. In a lawsuit Lambda Legal filed on her behalf against school officials, Nancy asserted that she suffered verbal and physical attacks from other students for two and a half years. To avoid attacks, she stayed out of the hallways, walked around the outside of the school building to get to her classes, and stopped using the school bathrooms, which led to abdominal pain during class. Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, school officials that know or should know about discriminatory abuse must take effective remedial action. After a mediation, school officials agreed to mandatory training for administrators, faculty, and staff, and to pay Nancy a confidential sum of money.
Henkle v. Gregory, Nevada, resolved 2002
From the age of 14, when Derek Henkle came out on public-access television, his life in the Nevada school system was a nightmare. School administrators and teachers stood by while other students harassed, threatened and physically assaulted him. One assistant principal actually laughed after students tried to tie Derek to a truck and drag him down the street. Rather than address the antigay harassment and violence, school administrators transferred Derek to other schools as if he were the problem. At 16, Derek, who had been in a program for gifted and talented students since fourth grade, was forced to resort to adult-education classes, where it was impossible to obtain a high school diploma. Derek contacted Lambda Legal and with our help secured a precedent-setting court ruling recognizing the rights of gay students. The school district agreed to sweeping policy changes to protect students from harassment, a $450,000 settlement payment, and put a letter in his academic file explaining why his education was cut short.
Nabozny v. Podlesny, Wisconsin, victory in 1996
For four years Jamie Nabozny was subjected to relentless verbal and physical abuse by students at his public high school in Ashland, Wisconsin. Students urinated on him, pretended to rape him during class and when they found him alone kicked him so many times in the stomach that he required surgery. Although they knew of the abuse, school officials said at one point that Nabozny should expect it if he’s gay. Nabozny attempted suicide several times, dropped out of school and ultimately ran away. Ultimately, he sued is former school. He wanted to make sure that other students didn’t go through what he did. Lambda Legal took over what would become a landmark case before a federal appeals court. The Court found, in the first judicial opinion of its kind, that a public school could be held accountable for not stopping antigay abuse. A jury found the school officials liable for the harm they caused to Nabozny. The case then settled for close to $1 million.
Colin v. Orange Unified School District, California, resolved 2000
When Anthony Colín founded the gay-straight alliance in his Southern California high school, he had no idea that he’d have to battle to keep it. First the school board denied the GSA’s application to become a recognized student club. This meant that the GSA couldn’t have meetings at the school like other student clubs could. Then the school board told the students involved in the GSA that it would only reconsider the group’s application if the group changed its name. With Lambda Legal’s help, Anthony and his friends sued the school district. The GSA won the right to meet while the lawsuit proceeded and ultimately won the right to meet at the school, use the school’s public address system to make announcements and be featured in the school yearbook, just like other student clubs.
Fricke v. Lynch, Rhode Island, resolved by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in 1980
Aaron Fricke asked Paul Guilbert to the prom—and Paul said yes. But Aaron’s principal said no. Aaron knew he should be able to go to the prom like everyone else, and he filed a lawsuit. Not only did Aaron win the right to take Paul to the prom, but his school also had to provide enough security so that he and Paul would be safe. Aaron helped show that unless a school has legitimate reason to believe someone’s date will cause a “substantial disruption,” students must be allowed to go to the prom with the date of their choice. That was Rhode Island in 1980. Today the law still has power, thanks to Aaron.
Logan v. Gary Community School Corporation, Indiana, resolved 2011
Throughout K.K. Logan’s high school career, she expressed a deeply rooted femininity in her appearance and demeanor. As a teen, K.K., designated male at birth, wore clothing typically associated with girls her age, and classmates and teachers were supportive of her dress. However, when K.K. wore a dress to her prom, K.K.’s principal physically blocked her from the entrance. Lambda Legal filed suit, arguing that the school violated K.K.’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, symbolic action and expressive conduct. The matter was resolved, including an undisclosed amount paid to K.K. as well as revisions to the school district's dress code and nondiscrimination policies. Both were revised to contain specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The school district also agreed to conduct training for the administration and school board members on LGBT issues and respectful treatment of LGBT people.
Couch v. Wayne Local School District, Ohio, resolved 2012
Maverick Couch wore a T-shirt to his high school with a rainbow Ichthys, or “sign of the fish,” and the words “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” in observation of GLSEN's National Day of Silence. The principal called Maverick into his office and told him to turn the T-shirt inside out. Maverick complied, but he wore it again the following day and was told to remove it or face suspension. When he next wrote to request permission to wear it, he was again threatened with suspension. School officials argued that the shirt was “sexual” in nature. Lambda Legal sued on Maverick’s behalf. Wayne Local School District and Principal Randy Gebhardt agreed to have judgment entered against them in an order affirming Maverick’s right to wear the shirt whenever he wants, and awarding him $20,000 for damages, costs, and attorney’s fees.
Mike Chiumento and Tom Salbenblatt
Plymouth-Canton Community School District, Michigan, resolved 2001
Lambda Legal represented two teachers in Michigan—one in a middle school and the other in a high school—who insisted on including LGBT people in educational messages of diversity and respect, even though some school administrators objected. Both teachers had created displays for LGBT History Month that commemorated the historical role of lesbians and gay men and addressed antigay harassment. At first, the school’s interim superintendent ordered them to take down the displays, but Lambda Legal helped these teachers fight the school district and won the right to make this important information available to students. The Michigan case supports all teachers who seek to create a safer learning environment by including LGBT people in educational messages.
Cheryl Bachmann Botsolas
West Milford High School, New Jersey, resolved 2007
Cheryl Bachmann Botsolas, a high school teacher in New Jersey, had taught history for three years and received terrific reviews. Soon after being recommended for tenure recommendation, she disciplined two students for using antigay slurs in her classroom. One of the students lashed out, threatening her life. In reaction to her firm stance against harassment, her tenure recommendation was revoked—with the effect that she was fired. With representation from Lambda Legal, she challenged the decision at a school board hearing, supported by fellow teachers and students. The school board voted to overturn the superintendent’s decision and restored Botsolas’ tenure. Her commitment a respectful classroom environment is a model for other educators and allies in ensuring the safety and well-being of LGBTQ students.
L.P. v. Philadelphia et al., Pennsylvania, resolved 2011
Administrators and staff at the City of Philadelphia's Youth Study Center, a secure youth detention facility, refused to treat L.P., a transgender girl, respectfully and in accordance with her female gender identity. Peers and staff harassed her, and staff refused services, including appropriate housing and access to clothing and grooming options that matched L.P.'s female gender identity. Lambda Legal filed a discrimination complaint with the City of Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, resulting in the center's adopting new policies and trainings to ensure the safety of transgender youth in its care.