Destin Holmes barely made it through the eighth grade at Magnolia Junior High School in Moss Point, Miss. Over the course of seven months classmates and even some teachers called Holmes “he-she,” “queer,” and “it,” and she was denied access to the girls’ bathroom. This was apparently her punishment for wearing baggy pants and baseball caps, and identifying as a lesbian. One time, Holmes was forced to sit out an activity that divided the class by gender because the teacher said Holmes was “in between.” Educators did nothing when classmates hurled antigay slurs — or worse, objects — at her. Instead, according to Holmes’s family, the Magnolia faculty blamed the girl for causing the ridicule.
Her father and grandmother met with the principal and vice principal several times, but the bullying persisted. By October 2011, two months into the school year, Holmes attempted suicide. After that, principal LaJeuna Payton allegedly told Holmes’s father, “If she’s going to dress like a boy, she’s going to be treated like a boy.”
In March 2012, Holmes’s grandmother sent a letter to Mississippi superintendent of schools Tom Burnham, Moss Point School District superintendent Greg Ladner, and Payton describing the harassment and detailing Payton’s lack of response. But the hostility continued, so Holmes left Magnolia later that month and has been homeschooled by her grandmother ever since.
Holmes, however, was not alone in being tormented at that school. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent investigation of the school district revealed that teachers and administrators subjected several other students — those who are LGBT or perceived to be — to a hostile environment. Sam Wolfe of the SPLC says this school district is particularly bad, but there are LGBT youngsters in schools across the country who experience hostility and harassment from teachers and students alike.
Both the superintendent and the principal have been replaced since Holmes last set foot in the school’s halls (moves apparently unrelated to the mistreatment of LGBT students). Since the investigation, the has SPLC issued a letter to the school’s new superintendent and the principal demanding change. The group gave administrators its Teaching Tolerance guide for schools and recommended a course of action that would ensure a safe environment for all students including Holmes, who wants to return to regular classes.
“It’s isolating being in a relatively small community in Mississippi, and not being able to go to school because of the hostility,” Wolfe says.
Administrators have yet to make a substantial statement on what the next move will be, but if they don’t comply with the minimum provisions set by the U.S. Department of Education to ensure school safety or don’t even want to meet with SPLC, a lawsuit could be next.