Hundreds of disgusted students stage massive walkout after gay classmate harassed and bullied
Another student walkout has taken place at a US high school, this time in support of an out gay classmate who was reportedly harassed and bullied because of his sexuality.
Hundreds of students were seen marching out of Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri on Monday (4 October) demanding action over the treatment of fellow student Danny Lillis.
According to the Kansas City Star, since the beginning of the school year Lillis and his friends have been bullied by another group of students who routinely hurl food and hateful slurs at them.
Lillis says he reported the incidents to school administrators at least four times, “crying, saying ‘I don’t feel safe’ repeatedly. And nothing changed.”
“Every single time that this happened, our kids have gone to student administration and reported it,” said Melanie Davies, mother of one of Lillis’ friends. “There is supposed to be a zero tolerance policy for bullying, but nobody is doing anything about it. They haven’t gotten the help that they needed.”
After weeks of enduring the harassment Lillis and his friends finally confronted the bullies on Wednesday (29 October), resulting in a physical altercation on the school grounds.
No teachers were present so the students themselves had to break up the fight; Lillis was left with cuts and bruises to his face while Davies’ daughter received a broken nose.
School administrators responded by punishing all students alike, handing out a five-day suspension for Lillis and his friends as well as the bullies – and this proved to be the final straw.
“We decided to do the walk out today to basically show movement towards our school an administration for the lack of action toward these repeated and multiple events that have been happening to me and my friends,” Lillis told KSHB 41.
“I’m terrified to step another foot in that school. To walk into a building where someone had just punched my friend and broke her nose due to this whole situation.”
He was joined by crowds of fellow students who gathered outside the school campus sounding car horns and chanting: “We need to be heard!”
They were backed by a Change.org petition signed by more than 2,800 people, which demands the high school administrators excuse Lillis and his friends from their suspension.
It also asks officials to thoroughly investigate and respond to reports of harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation; to enforce the school’s zero tolerance policy for bullying; and to issue an apology for “inflicting fear in all LSHS LGBTQ+ students in regards to their physical and mental safety at the school”.
In a statement to KSHB 41 on Monday morning the school district said that it supported the students’ rights to voice their opinion.
“We support our students’ right to express their voice peacefully and are communicating with students about the best ways we can support them,” a spokesperson said. “Lee’s Summit R-7 School District is committed to supporting and working together with students to address their concerns with fairness, dignity and respect.”
The district added that everyone in the school community “deserves to feel safe and welcome,” and that harassment or discrimination is strictly prohibited. An investigation is forthcoming.
“District administrators will follow Board of Education policies and procedures as we determine next steps,” they added. “In LSR7, it is a top priority to ensure an inclusive culture where out students, staff members and families are valued and treated with dignity.”
Students walkouts are hitting schools where it hurts
The Lee’s Summit High School protest is the latest in a wave of student walkouts over anti-LGBT+ hate in the education system, and schools are finding them harder and harder to ignore.
These walkouts are becoming more common, according to Frederick Heather, advocacy and education manager for Out Youth’s Texas Gay Straight Alliance Network – and they’re hitting officials where it hurts.
“The schools are paid based on how many students are in seats. And so if the students are not in seats, it directly affects the school’s income,” they explained to PinkNews.
“What it boils down to is how many students you have in the classroom on a given day, how many students you have graduate, how many students you have pass the standardised test. All of those things directly impact the funding that the schools get.
“The students, kind of like union workers, are coming to realise that you have the power and the right to make these demands, especially for something like your safety and wellbeing in your classroom.”
The addition of unfavourable media coverage has given students more leverage than ever, and they’re making sure their voices are heard.