A Florida teacher is under fire for asking two female fifth grade students if they were in a relationship in front of class, leading one of the students to withdraw from school.
Jezinia Gambino, the mother of one of the students, told NBC affiliate WPTV that “the rumor was that my daughter and another fifth grade little girl were dating.” After the teacher learned of the rumor, she summoned the children before the class and asked them if they were a couple “in a way that they felt they were in trouble,” Gambino said.
After the incident, Gambino said her daughter was texted by the other student, who said she “wasn’t sure if they should hang out together anymore because of what happened in school.”
“She didn’t want anyone to think they were gay,” Gambino said of the other student.
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Gambino said her daughter felt humiliated and will be homeschooled for at least the rest of the year. "What they did affected my daughter in a way that now I'm having to go back and fix," she added.
The teacher was reported to the Florida Department of Education for engaging in inappropriate communication with students and was given a verbal warning, according to WPTV.
Regardless of the perceived sexuality of the two students, a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch found that many U.S. public schools are hostile environments for LGBTQ youth, with the report documenting multiple examples of school administrators lobbing homophobic abuse at students.
Ryan Thoreson, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, said these incidents happen because so few schools train teachers and administrators on LGBTQ cultural competency.
“One of the most surprising findings from our research on LGBT issues in U.S. schools was that a lot of students said teachers and administrators were a bigger problem for them than other students,” Thoreson wrote in an email Wednesday. “Other students knew it wasn't OK to be overtly homophobic or transphobic, but school staff would still publicly humiliate LGBT kids for who they dated, what they wore, or how they identified.”
A number of incidents involving school officials mistreating LGBTQ students have made national news this past year. In November 2018, an assistant principal at a West Virginia public school was accused of harassing and following a 15-year-old transgender boy into the bathroom, telling him “you freak me out.” And last month, a Kentucky girl was expelled from a private Christian school for “behavioral issues” after she was pictured in a photograph with a rainbow birthday cake. Her mother later filed a lawsuit claiming her daughter was expelled for her “perceived sexuality.”