Teenage gays sue over gang attacks

11th April 1997 at 01:00
AUSTRALIA. In unprecedented legal cases in Australia, two gay teenagers in Sydney are suing their schools for failing to provide a safe environment. Both claim they were frequently bashed by student gangs and verbally abused.

Christopher Tsakalos, 14, is suing his former school, Cranebrook High in the west of Sydney, for breach of duty of care. He alleges teachers ignored or did not stop anti-gay vilification of him, including death threats and bashings by students.

Christopher is also planning to lodge charges of criminal assault against 50 Cranebrook students and will file a formal complaint with the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board. "It was terrible," he told journalists. "No one bothered to help me. Teachers just stood there and did nothing."

A second, so far unnamed student is believed to be suing a prominent Sydney Catholic school in the eastern suburbs where he claims to have been beaten by fellow students. He is said to have been admitted to a psychiatric unit for two years after being harassed and collapsing at a school function.

According to the NSW Gay and Lesbian Teachers and Students Association, if the test cases are successful it will "open the floodgates" for other gay students who have been discriminated against at school. The association claims that anti-homophobia policies are being ignored by schools.

The head of the Anti-Discrimination Board, Mr Chris Puplick, disputed claims by the state education department that abuse of homosexual students in NSW schools was rare. Mr Puplick said the department was ignoring clear evidence of widespread vilification of gay pupils and was therefore "morally culpable" for the violence and harassment experienced by significant numbers of students.

A departmental spokesman rejected Mr Puplick's charges saying all reported cases were acted upon. "The strongest possible action is taken but we cannot act if incidents are not reported to us," the spokesman said.

The spokesman added that Christopher Tsakalos had been intensively supported by Cranebrook but that he had learning difficulties and a history of poor attendance throughout his school life. The boy had received special attention at each of his schools, including counselling and placement in special classes.

"But a prerequisite to success at school is attending class. Christopher's attendance record throughout his school career has been unfortunate," the spokesman said. An investigation by a researcher at the Australian National University is believed to have found that homophobia is endemic in Australian schools. The researcher, Dr David Plummer, told a Sydney newspaper the problem was extensive and that he had uncovered behaviour that was more to be expected in jails than the "supposed safe haven of schools".

"My research details children being spat on, physically assaulted and terrorised," Dr Plummer said. "Often the assault is so savage, bones are broken in gang attacks."

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