I wrote this story in 1997, about a young Fayetteville woman who was continually harassed - both verbally and physically - by classmates because her mother was involved in a lesbian relationship. This story is included in my book, Ozark Mosaic.
Children in the Crossfire
The journey taken by a Fayetteville woman to insure her daughter's safety in school has taken twists and turns that are both darkly comic and frightening.
Sophia Estes, battling for months to assure safety for Ryan, her twelve year old daughter enrolled at Woodland Junior High School, felt compelled to pull her out of school for the remainder of the year.
The school years can be rough on many students, but hazing, shoving, name-calling, and casual acts of violence seem only to have escalated in recent years. In Ryan's case, the hazing occurred because her mother is a lesbian, married to another woman. Ryan was the subject - referred to as “Danielle” - of a previous Ozark Gazette story (“Hate on the Home Front,” December 9, 1996).
Throughout the current school year at Woodland, Ryan has been subject to a number of attacks ranging from verbal (“queer,” “bitch,”) to the physical (slapping, choking, hair pulling, and being knocked down in the schoolyard, another girl atop her, thrusting against her in a sexual manner). Throughout all of her ordeal, Ryan has retained the air of a bright, friendly child, though her depression comes out occasionally in conversation.
The decision to take Ryan out of the public school system came about after she received a “citizenship demerit” for referring to another student as a “dork.” The form sent home with Ryan further states that, “Maintaining order in the classroom is crucial to the safety and learning of all our students.”
In response, Estes wrote to school principal Evelyn Marbury, asking if the parents of the students who had attacked her daughter were notified of their behavior. She went on to inform the principal that her grades had dropped, and that she was unable to concentrate on her studies, due to the disruption during classes, her personal property destroyed, and physical assaults. She asked, “How is she supposed to be learning anything when there is this kind of intimidation and hostility directed toward her?”
She informed the principal that, due to the situation at Woodland, she was requesting that Ryan’s assignments be forwarded to the home, so that she could complete the school year there, rather than in the school.
After this, principal Marbury wrote to Sophia Estes, informing that since she had taken Ryan home to be “home schooled,” that she was in effect enrolling her in another school, and therefore could not send the assignments.
Sophia Estes’ letter does not say that she wanted to “home school” her daughter, but merely have her assignments sent home so that she could finish the school year in surroundings more conducive to learning. In a written response, Estes informed Marbury that Ryan has been in counseling for some time, and that she had written statements advising her that remaining in school would be detrimental to her daughter’s psychological well-being.
There was no communication from the school following this exchange of letters.
Ryan has now been out of school for over six weeks. Sophia Estes lives with the very real fear that, because of her actions to protect her daughter, she may be declared an “unfit” mother, and her daughter taken away, to live in a foster home. At the very least, Ryan will, in all likelihood, have to repeat this past year’s schooling.
Sophia Estes began experiencing physical harassment (including beatings and job loss) at the same age as her daughter. Ironically, Ryan is not gay, but heterosexual. But for human predators, that wouldn’t make any difference.
Recently, Sophia and Ryan Estes and Carolyn Wagner, and her son William, a local gay high schooler badly beaten last December because he was gay, attended the First Annual Summit for Gay and Lesbian Youth, held in Washington, D.C., where they met with officials of the Department of Justice and Education, with reference to what seems to be the rising tide of anti-gay violence in Fayetteville, including the clear-cut sexual harassment of Ryan. The summit was sponsored by the National Youth Advocacy Coalition.
While in Washington, they also met with two of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, Senator
Dale Bumpers, and Representative Vic Snyder.
Since their return, they have learned that representatives from the Education and Justice Departments have been meeting on a regular basis with representatives from the offices of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLAG), and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
And in Fayetteville, the Department of Education’s Division of Civil Rights has begun an investigation into the anti-gay incidents at Fayetteville's public schools. But investigations take time, and meetings held in the nation’s capital may not affect school policy for a longer time, if ever.
In the meantime, Ryan Estes sits at home, which may be the only place she can finish school, safe from taunts, assaults and what have often seemed indifferent school policies.
Ozark Gazette - May 19, 1997