New gay rights to follow settlement

Nancy Hall - Staff Writer

Last week in Nevada a gay student was given a $451,000 settlement in response to his lawsuit against the school district that ignored his pleas of hate crimes against him.
In 2000, Derek Henkle filed a federal civil rights law suit against Reno’s Washoe County school district. It was settled out of court last week, as the district decided on the monetary sum for Henkle and will implement new school policies to protect gay students and recognize their unalienable rights to be openly homosexual.
Henkle’s lawsuit stated that since he was 14 years old, he was beaten and threatened by other high school students. The school did nothing to protect him, to investigate into his claims or to punish those who were responsible. He reported incidents ranging from verbal abuse in the hallways to a group of kids putting a lasso around his neck in the attempt to string him down.
When he broke free of the last incident, Henkle ran to a teacher’s room and hid in fear. The teacher called down to the principal’s office to report that they were both in danger, but no help was sent for over an hour.
This is just one of the many gay hate crimes that have occurred in recent time.
The Human Rights Watch released a report in May of 2001 called “Hatred in the Hallways,” which found that gay teenagers have been receiving less than adequate educations due to the increasing amounts of bullying and persecution. As many as two million school-age children were affected nationwide last year, according to the report.
Schools across the country will be following the example set by the Washoe County district as it sets forth gay rights policies. Though the county never admitted guilt in this matter, it did agree that such policies were necessary for the protection of students’ rights.
To date, only seven states and the District of Columbia have policies enacted for the protection of gay and lesbian students against harassment or discrimination, and they are Massachusetts, Vermont, Wisconsin, California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Minnesota.
The new policy in Nevada includes acknowledgment of a student’s freedom of expression, including discussions of sexual orientation as well as requirements for student education about sexual harassment and intimidation. Staff training on prevention and anti-harassment policies are to be posted in district buildings and printed in student handbooks.