SALT LAKE CITY – Administrators at a Utah middle school outed a gay teenage boy to his parents because they feared he would be bullied, but the move has outraged civil rights groups that claim the student's privacy was violated.
Alpine School District took the unusual step after the 14-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, created an advertisement about himself and his sexual orientation during a class project.
An aide later overheard other students ridiculing him and became concerned about bullying. Even though the boy was openly gay in school, he did not want to tell his parents.
"He was nervous" about telling his parents, school district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley told the Salt Lake Tribune. "He initially said, `No, that can't happen.' He finally agreed reluctantly."
Bromley said the boy's parents are supportive but have removed him from school until the controversy subsides. She did not return telephone messages from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Civil rights groups blasted the move as a violation of the student's right to privacy.
"The school's decision to disclose deprived the young man the right to reveal highly personal aspects of his life at a time and manner of his choice," Joe Cohn of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Cohn said there are serious consequences in such cases, especially in communities where homosexuality can carry a tremendous stigma.
In one case, Cohn said, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed after a football player committed suicide when small-town Pennsylvania police officers threatened to tell his family he was gay.
"You shouldn't be pressured into making such an important decision," Cohn said.
Andy Marra, a spokeswoman for the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said such cases aren't confined to Utah.
"It's something we've seen in the past and something school administrators will continue to grapple with," Marra said.
She agreed it was important for school officials to address bullying behavior but added that schools should notify parents of bullying without disclosing the child's sexual orientation.
"Taking away the choice for a LGBT student to come out on their own terms opens the door to significant risks, including harassment at school and family rejection," network Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a statement. "Schools should be able to provide LGBT students with support and resources in order to make an informed decision if and when they decide to come out to their school community and family."
Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, agreed there can be serious consequences when parents are told of a child's sexual orientation before a young person is ready to reveal it themselves.
"Often times the relationship between the youth and the parent is one of the most difficult to manage when it comes out," Larabee said.