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SPLC reaches settlement with Mississippi school district to stop anti-LGBT bullying

Destin Holmes was constantly bombarded with anti-gay slurs and insults by students and even teachers. Her principal said: “I don’t want a dyke in this school.” Now, the school district has agreed to adopt new policies to protect LGBT students from harassment.

Jonathan Bachman/AP Images

The SPLC has reached a settlement with Mississippi’s Moss Point School District on behalf of Destin Holmes, a student who was subjected to pervasive anti-LGBT bullying and harassment by fellow students, faculty and even administrators.

As part of the settlement, the school district has agreed to adopt and implement new anti-bullying and discrimination policies and procedures, as well as equal educational opportunity policies to prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The district is also reforming its procedures so that complaints of bullying and harassment brought by students, parents and guardians will quickly be brought to the attention of teachers and administrators. The new policies and procedures are to be included in the parent/student and employee handbooks and updated on the district’s website.

The financial terms of the settlement are confidential. 

“We’re proud of Destin and her grandmother for having the courage to stand up for Destin’s rights and share their story,” said SPLC staff attorney Anjali Nair.

“Educators have an obligation to ensure students have the opportunity to learn in an environment free of bigotry and harassment. We applaud the district for taking these steps to protect students regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or conformity to antiquated notions of gender stereotypes. We hope this settlement will provide a more inclusive environment at Moss Point schools and will serve as a model to help protect students from similar discrimination in other districts.”

The SPLC sued the district in December 2013.

“I had to go through years of bullying,” Holmes said. “I wanted to make sure other LGBT students would not have to go through what I went through because of who they are or how they dress. I hope the settlement will make it easier for LGBT students at Moss Point and send the message to other students across the country who may be experiencing similar bullying that equal treatment is a right.”

Watch Holmes' account of the harassment:  

Holmes, now 18, was 14 when she started school in the district. 

From the moment Holmes arrived for the eighth grade at Magnolia Junior High, other students taunted and mocked her, the suit alleged. They bombarded her with anti-gay slurs and insults – calling her “dyke,” “it” and sometimes “freak” or “he-she.” Along with the insults, students threw things at her in class. Holmes, her father and grandmother repeatedly appealed to teachers and other school officials to help her.

One teacher refused to let her use the girls’ restroom, forcing her to use the boys’ room instead. Another wouldn’t let her participate in a math exercise where the class was divided by gender, because, according to the teacher, she was “an in-between it.” Destin sat in the middle of the classroom and cried while the other children laughed, according to the lawsuit.

A principal told Holmes’ mental health caseworker that he wouldn’t follow his recommendations, because “when you are in my school, you follow my lead since I allow you to be here.” He also told her, according to the lawsuit: “I don’t want a dyke in this school.”

Holmes left the junior high school in March 2012 and was homeschooled before it became a financial strain for her family. She returned to high school, where similar harassment continued. She is currently completing her GED through the school district.

As part of the new policies, the district’s equal educational opportunities policy will read: “Every pupil of the district will have equal educational opportunities regardless of race, color, creed, sex, handicap, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion or marital status. No student shall be excluded on such basis from participating in or having access to any course offerings, athletics, counseling, employment assistance, and extra-curricular activities.”

Destin’s grandmother, Jennifer Holmes, said the new policies are a positive step. “Kids should not have to go to school and be afraid they are going to be the targets of harassment and discrimination,” she said. “No grandmother should have to worry about their grandchild’s well-being at school. I don’t want any child to endure what my granddaughter went through. The settlement is a victory for Destin and other Moss Point students. They are not alone.”

The lawsuit alleged the district violated Holmes’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments Acts of 1972. According to the lawsuit, other district students also experienced anti-LGBT bullying. These incidents included a transgender student who was attacked and ridiculed. Students assaulted a gay male student because he was open about his orientation.