Monday, August 24, 2009

When Teachers Are The Homophobic Bullies: How Things Went Terribly Wrong In Minnesota

Alex Merritt

Alex Merritt, now 18, was repeatedly harrassed by two TEACHERS in his high school in the 2007-2008 school year. He ended up having to transfer to a different school. The Anoka-Hennepin School District just settled the lawsuit last week, giving Alex's family a $25,000.- settlement.

In the aftermath, the school district has refused the offer of OutFront Minnesota, a local GLBT advocacy group, to help train staff in the district's new policy on discussing sexual orientation.

In fact, until February of 2009, the old policy directed

staff members to refrain from discussing homosexuality "as a normal, valid lifestyle" in health education classes.

Clearly, this policy led to an environment where prejudice and intolerance were not only tolerated, they were SANCTIONED.

His "fence swings both ways," teacher Diane Cleveland said during a class, according to the investigation by the Human Rights department. Another teacher, Walter Filson, said that Merritt "enjoys wearing women's clothes."

Merritt said he had Cleveland's class before lunch, and Filson's class afterwards. If Cleveland made fun of him for something, he said, she told Filson about it at lunch. Merritt would be teased for the same thing in a new class after lunch.

Can you imagine? The Teachers conspired with each other, exchanging notes on which insults they used and coordinating their attacks!

And Diane Cleveland suggested to her class,

on learning the student [Alex] was doing a report on Benjamin Franklin, that the student had a "thing for older men."

And these teachers are STILL teaching there!!!

This is an outrage. $25,000.- does little to recompense a ruined High School experience. And what was the lesson taught to ALL those other students in those teacher's classes? To the entire school, when Alex was forced out?

And how can anyone figure out the stuff of adolescence (or learn anything from school) in the midst of such obstacles?

Alex, I am so ashamed of those adults for treating you with such a lack of respect. Adults should do better. Be better.

And that school district, that school, and those teachers, have some serious work to do.

My thanks to Brian F. for sharing this story with me, so I could share it with all of you!


The photo of Alex and the top quotes are from this overview article at here.

The Benjamin Franklin quote and more info on the teachers and the whole story is available at
this KSTP TV online article here.


Unknown said...

This story made me sick to my stomach. I'm a high school teacher, too, and my job is to create a safe learning environment for ALL students. Those teachers should be fired, the district put on notice to adhere to anti-discrimination laws and policies,and that a $25K settlement? What a joke. Alex would have a safe, supportive home at my high school. That's not to say that homophobia isn't alive and well, because it is ... but in the staff room?? Inexcusable. It's incumbent upon teachers to shut down homophobia everywhere on campus: in class, in the quad, in the gym... Even when kids casually toss out a "that's so gay", I consider it my moral obligation as a teacher to call them out on it. Thanks for posting this, Lee. Keep up the good work. And I hope Alex hangs in there ~ it does get better.

Brian F. said...

There's a follow-up story that looks into why these teachers weren't fired:

The gist of it is: it's too hard to fire a teacher so why try?

Seems like a poor excuse.

fairyhedgehog said...

That's so sad.

I can't believe that the school is still so reluctant to change.

Color Online said...

I am appalled they weren't fired. These people are charged with creating a safe and tolerant environment for all students? Unbelievable.

Hayden Thorne said...

Hmm. I think I'll have to up my donation to the ACLU.

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to the queer kids still at that school with those teachers. Man.

Doret said...

Teachers bully a teen but aren't fired what a nice message for the students.