My name is Liv Funk, and I’m writing this to explain why I want changes to how LGBTQ students are treated at North Bend High School in Oregon.
This is very personal for me. I’m about to graduate from North Bend, but I’m continuing to speak up so that nobody else has to go through what I went through. When freshmen arrive in the fall, I want them to have a different experience: a school where everybody feels welcome and safe, no matter who they are or whose hand they happen to hold.
I had hoped to be treated just like anyone else after I came out before my sophomore year. But I guess I was wrong. Back in 2015, when I held my then-girlfriend’s hand in the hallway on the first day of school, I couldn’t even count how many people gave us weird looks and how many whispers filled the air. I even heard teachers make hurtful comments.
I knew coming out wasn’t going to be easy. But I didn’t expect it to be this hard. After being subjected to slurs and teasing, I became anxious and paranoid. I started to wonder: What if something is really wrong with me? What if who I am really isn’t ok?
Things escalated slowly. Looks and stares eventually turned into laughs and slurs. People would turn their backs to me and fake-cough while saying “faggot.” If I happened to sit next to a girl, they’d make a big show of moving away.
One of the first major incidents happened just a couple months after the start of my sophomore year. My girlfriend and I were walking to her car. The principal’s son was in his car and accelerated very close to us, yelling “faggot” out the window as he drove away.
I was so scared in the immediate aftermath. But then I just kind of normalized it. That’s just what happens at school, I reasoned to myself, especially if the bully is the principal’s son and on the football team.
I went to the principal a few times that year, but he never did anything. And then more physical stuff started happening.
One day, I was leaving the bathroom of our tech building when a girl and her friend came in. I didn’t want to bump into them, so I stood by the wall. But then one of the girls pushed me by my shoulders, pinned me against the wall, and called me a “dyke.”
In my junior year, I was physically assaulted for being gay again. This time it resulted in x-rays, and the school police officer telling me I’m going to hell.
That attack happened on what some people call the “smoker’s trail,” a small cement path hidden between a line of trees and a fence. It juts out from the northwest corner of the school and down a small hill down to an area where people often get picked up after class.
Two boys were on the path yelling slurs, and I told them they were being offensive. I told them I was gay and had a girlfriend and that they may not want to say that.
One of them said, “Well, I f*****g hate homos,” and then he whacked my ankle with his skateboard. I reached out to stop him from hitting me again, but he grabbed his skateboard again and smashed my right hand.
My hand hurt so bad and swelled up like a balloon. Eventually, my mom had to take me to the doctor.
I was initially too nervous to tell school administrators. I didn’t trust the administration, especially after learning the principal made my friend, who was openly bisexual, read the Bible. But my friend Hailey really thought I should talk to someone, so she made sure I did.
I spoke with the school resource officer and gave him a rundown of what happened. His response was stunning, but not surprising in hindsight. He said that if I’m going to be an open member of the LGBT community that I should prepare for things like this. The officer said that being gay was a choice, and it was against his religion. He said that he had homosexual friends, but because I was an open homosexual, I was going to hell.
Yes, right there in his office, inside the school, he straight up told me I was going to hell. That was his response to me getting attacked.
I told the principal about the incident and the officer’s response, but he chose to ignore it. The principal’s rationale was that what the boys did to me happened a few yards from school property. That was confusing. I know a bunch of my friends had gotten in trouble down on that path for smoking or other things. The principal chose not to take action when it was an assault for being gay, but for any other reason, he was happy to step in.
If you are being discriminated against by staff or students at any public school, or anywhere, I want you to know that what’s happening is not ok and you’re not alone.
I felt so defeated after that. I had dealt with so much. The offensive comments and “jokes” from students and teachers in the hallways and in class. The constant slurs hurled my way. The assaults. Getting told I was going to hell. The lack of action no matter how many times things were reported. The retaliation faced by the staff members who did try to help us. The refusal to do anti-discrimination training.
Everything added up.
I later learned Hailey and I could file a complaint with the Oregon Department of Education and some extremely supportive people helped us do that. I never imagined anything would actually be done: I thought people wouldn’t think it was a big deal, that it didn’t matter, that this is normal. It wasn’t until I met with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that I realized this is actually happening; that this matters; and that what happened to me isn’t actually ok.
I’m graduating now, but I still want systemic change at North Bend High School. I want what happened at North Bend to remind the country that public schools should be safe places for students in every way. If you are being discriminated against by staff or students at any public school, or anywhere, I want you to know that what’s happening is not ok and you’re not alone.
You are not weird. You are not sick. You are not a problem. You are loved. You have the right to learn, flourish, and be accepted for who you are.
By Liv Funk
Liv Funk, Senior at North Bend High School in Coos County, Oregon. Originally published by the American Civil Liberties Union, aclu.org.