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Lesbian student wins $25,000 payout over homophobic harassment

PinkNews Staff Writer May 20, 2009
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A lesbian student who claimed she was the victim of anti-gay harassment and discrimination at a California school has received $25,000 (£15,950) in a settlement.

Rochelle Hamilton, 16, said that during her sophomore year at Jesse Bethel High School she was forced to attend counselling group which told gay students they had chosen their sexual orientations and that they would find it difficult to get jobs.

She also alleges teachers commented on her appearance, denied her access to the girls’ locker room and told her off for hugging her girlfriend.

On several occasions, she claimed teachers told her she was “ungodly” and “going to hell”.

In a case brought on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Vallejo City Unified School District opted to settle with stipulations that students and employees will receive more training regarding anti-gay bullying and with stricter procedures will be put in place regarding reports of such harassment.

Hamilton, who came out when she was 13, said: “All I ever wanted was to be able to go to school and just be myself. But I couldn’t do that when the people I was supposed to be learning from were judging me and telling me something was wrong with me. How was I supposed to learn when I was constantly scared?”

Elizabeth Gill, an ACLU-NC staff attorney who worked with the district on the settlement, said: “California school districts are required by state law to protect students from harassment and discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“If a school district ignores anti-gay bias in schools, it is plainly violating both state and federal law. These laws are designed, in part, to ensure that all students are able to learn and thrive free from bias. When it’s left unchecked, harassment can take a serious toll on students.”

As part of the settlement, the school district accepts no culpability.

School district spokesman Jason Hodge said Hamilton’s allegations were unfounded. “People all have different perceptions as to why people are saying things to you or doing things,” he said.

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