Kansas lesbian teen triumphs over school homophobes

A 14-year-old lesbian student in Kansas has succeeded in forcing her school district to change its policies towards LGBTQ students after she rejected her bus driver’s homophobic discrimination.

The bus driver and the school’s principal also lost their jobs after the student and her family filed a Title IX complaint following the fallout after Dieker stood up for herself.

According to The Kansas Reflector, Izzy Dieker was riding the bus home on January 27 from North Lyon County Elementary School where she was in eighth grade. The other students were rowdy and using slurs and were not chastised by the bus driver, Kristi Gadino. Then Dieker said that she identified as a lesbian.

Gadino then stopped the bus and ticketed Dieker for “unacceptable language,” and other misdemeanors, which were found to e falsified. School Principal Corey Wiltz backed Gadino, and told Dieker that the word "lesbian" was “inappropriate.”

Dieker said she was tormented by boys at the school who took the principal’s side and taunted her with homophobic comments. She was suspended from riding the school bus.

She had to switch classrooms and get driven to her school by her parents to avoid the same bus driver and students.

Dieker's family filed a Title IX complaint and an investigation reviewed bus security video showing other students using profanities, hate speech, racist language, and obscenities, according to the report. The video showed Dieker calmly and without expletives defending her use of the word lesbian, which contradicted Gadino's account of the incident.

In the weeks that followed the incident, a school librarian who made rainbow pins for teachers to wear in support of Dieker was fired, although he was not told that he was being fired in connection to the incident, according to LGBTQ Nation. A coach, a social worker, a cook, and three teachers resigned in protest.

In July, the ACLU of Kansas sent a letter to the North Lyon County school district, calling on it to protect LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming students from discrimination. The district has about 350 students and is about 60 miles southwest of Topeka.

A Kansas Association of School Boards investigation found that the bus driver and the principal of Dieker’s K-8 school sexually harassed her, violating federal civil rights regulations and district policies.

“It made me really happy that the truth got out there,” Dieker said, “because Wiltz and the bus driver hadn’t been very truthful about the whole thing, and it was kind of messing up everything.”

The investigator found that both Wiltz and Gadino were responsible for sexual harassment of Dieker in violation of Title IX, which bans discrimination in education. 

The report stated their actions “reflected that they fundamentally disapproved of her sexual orientation and, quite possibly, her as well. ... The student would likely internalize their disgust and general disapproval.”

The report recommended disciplinary action for Gadino and Wiltz, but Gadino resigned in July. In January, Wiltz had decided to leave his position as principal at the end of the school year and take an administrative position in another school district. That offer was rescinded after the independent investigation.

If she hadn’t spoken to the media, nothing would have been done about this and it would have all been brushed under the rug.

Sharon Brett of the ACLU of Kansas

Patrick Stevenson, one of the teachers who resigned following the incident, told the Kansas Reflector, “I love the kid because she is so stinking smart.”

Dieker plans to attend the district’s high school this fall.

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