Gay/lesbian rights pioneer dies | Arkansas Blog

Gay/lesbian rights pioneer dies

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Carolyn Wagner, the feisty Fayetteville mother whose struggle to stop gay and lesbian bullying in schools resulted in a landmark legal agreement, has died in Tulsa after a long struggle with cancer, liver failure and hepatitis she acquired through a blood transfusion.

Wagner filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education in 1997, saying that her son William had endured years of homophobic harassment and bullying while a student in the Fayetteville School District, resulting in a broken nose and other injuries. Wagner and her son claimed school officials and teachers turned a blind eye to the abuse. In 1998, the OCR reached an agreement with Fayetteville School District which forced both OCR and the school district to recognize the harassment of gays and lesbians as falling under Title IX, which prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination. It was the first case in which Title IX was deemed to cover gay and lesbian bullying.

Wagner's victory in her struggle to protect her son is considered a milestone in the gay and lesbian community — so much so that it has been immortalized in song.

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Raised on a farm near Waldron, Wagner was the co-founder of Families United Against Hate, a non-profit group that works to secure the rights of gays and lesbians, and was a former vice-president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). She also founded Fulfill A Dream, Inc, which helped realize the final dreams of terminally ill children.

Reached at her office in Washington State, Wagner's FUAH co-founder Gabi Clayton said that her friend was always an activist, even before her son was bullied.

In 2010, an interview with Wagner was included in the MSNBC special "Obama's America: 2010 and Beyond."

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