Last January I started the year describing a situation in a Kilgore, TX high school where a lesbian softball player was, according to allegations in her lawsuit against the school, athletic director and coaches, treated outrageously by her coaches.
Skye Wyatt’s lawsuit alleges that her softball coaches violated her right to privacy by outing her to her mother. The case is the first in which the 5th U.S. Circuit — which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — has identified a constitutional right to privacy for sexual orientation information.
The lawsuit claims that the coaches:
1. Called Skye to a fake team meeting
2. Locked Skye in the locker room alone with the coaches
3. Berated Skye about being a lesbian and accused her of spreading gossip about one of the coaches being lesbian
4. Called Skye’s mother to the school and outed Skye to her mother
5. Kicked Skye off the softball team
The School district is mounting a full defense of the coaches’ actions claiming that they followed school policy by outing Skye. From the article, “In court documents, the defendants allege that Skye Wyatt had been openly gay for several years and never attempted to keep her sexuality secret. They also argue that the coaches had a legitimate interest in revealing Wyatt’s sexual orientation to her mother, because they were concerned about her safety. The coaches said they believed Wyatt was in a potentially illegal relationship with an 18-year-old woman.”
The coaches’ outing of Skye to her mother caused a rift in their relationship and began a downward spiral of depression for Skye, whose dreams of playing college softball and possibly coaching some day were destroyed.
The claim that the coaches acted out of concern for Skye seem ridiculous. How is calling a high school student to a fake meeting, in effect to trick her into the locker room, and locking her there to confront her about her sexual orientation an expression of concern for her safety by any stretch of the imagination?
How is telling her mother about Skye’s sexual orientation, in what feels like retaliation for Skye’s refusal to admit that she was spreading gossip about the coach’s sexual orientation, in any way an act of concern, support or care? It looks to me like that this decision by the coaches was malicious and punitive, not an expression of concern for Skye’s safety.
Then there is the issue of kicking Skye off the team. How is that an expression of concern for her safety and well-being? If the coaches cared about Skye, you’d think they’d want to keep on the team, participating in a school activity she loves.
With all the progress in addressing LGBT issues in sport we witnessed in 2011 – Several major men’s professional leagues adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policies, the NCAA adopting a policy enabling trans athletes to participate on sex-separate teams, high school and college LGBT athletes coming out right and left, straight athlete allies stepping forward to publicly support their LGBT teammates – this case is a sad reminder that we still have lots of work to do.
When a school district anywhere defends the actions of coaches who carelessly abuse their power and position in ways that damage the lives and dreams of the young people they are supposed to protect and nurture, we still have a big problem. Skye and Barbara Wyatt’s courageous lawsuit shines a light on the disconnect between the high profile actions we celebrated in 2011and the day to day reality of discrimination that far too many young LGBT athletes continue to face. We have come a long way, but until lawsuits like this one become unnecessary to achieve fairness and justice for LGBT students, we still have important battles to fight.
A judge has rejected the school district’s motion for a summary judgment and the case will go to trial in mid-January. I will keep you posted.