Ellensburg High School students speak out against LGBTQIA+ bullying at board meeting

EHS teachers claim lack of required training


Yohanes Goodell

Front of Ellensburg High School.

Megan Rogers, News Editor

Slashed tires, “f-slurs” and harassment; this is only a portion of what Ellensburg High School (EHS) students reported experiencing from their peers at the board meeting on March 29. 

EHS students Ashley Callan and Nina Gonzalez spoke at the meeting, and Callan gave an exclusive interview to The Observer about her experiences.

At the meeting, Gonzalez said they are frustrated with the administration, and said for all 11 years of their education, they have been bullied both physically and verbally. Gonzalez said it was only when a boy brought a knife to school and threatened them that their counselor did anything. 

“I’m just as human as you,” Gonzalez said at the board meeting. “I deserve to express myself, but the more I do, the more I am reminded I do not belong here. My education has been taken from me and my passion for learning has been extinguished.”

Gonzalez said that despite all of this, they will still continue to speak and share their story to make up for all that has not been done. 

“I’m still a kid,” Gonzalez said. “It will never be my responsibility to fix the problems you’ve made. It is not my job to cater to how you should believe a high school student should look and act. It is, however, your job to make sure every single student feels safe and respected in a building that is under your control.”

At the board meeting, Callan said when she ran for Associated Student Body Public Relations officer last year, she had no idea how bad the harassment and homophobia would be.

According to Callan in the meeting, when she ran there was a rumor that a group was running against her to “get the gays out.”

“The entire election basically felt like a competition between my sexuality, rather than based off of actual qualification,” Callan said. 

Callan stated the administration just swept it under the rug, and she would have to go to them to ask for protection. She said in the meeting that she would ask the administration if they could find the people who were slashing her tires and ripping down her campaign posters.

“They [administration] told me it was for the people who are hate crime-ing me to protect them, rather than let me know who was out against me in this school, a place where I have to be and I can’t even know who it is,” Callan said in the meeting.

According to Callan, the administration still is blocking articles from their school newspaper that talk about the events that happened to her. 

Callan said she used to love to go to school, but now she will leave school as early as possible and sometimes tries to show up late in the mornings to avoid any of the administration. 

“If not for me, but for all the other LGBTQIA+ students, please do something,” Callan said.

Callan’s interview with The Observer

Callan said that since the elections last year, homophobia is still evident at EHS. 

“Occasionally people would say a slur, and anytime I would bring it up, nothing would actually happen,” Callan said. 

Callan said that it is unsettling not knowing who these people are that are harassing her. 

“I don’t know what my safety is like, because I don’t feel like the school is doing anything to protect me,” Callan said. “If they wanted to beat me up or something, I wouldn’t know and I couldn’t avoid them.”

According to Callan, the students at EHS had a walkout protest on April 14, and some students were joking and being homophobic about it. 

“It was for the Day of Silence, it’s talking about how a lot of LGBTQ+ people are just silenced overall, [but]  specifically for our school [it] is the administration,” Callan said. 

When the students walked out, Callan said some kids were making jokes about the situation and said that they were going to make a roster or registry of all the students at the Day of Silence.

Ellensburg High School teachers speak out 

EHS English teachers, Brittanie Wyler and Lorraine Barlow, spoke at the board meeting on March 29. 

Barlow said during the time of the elections, teachers didn’t know what was going on and that it was frustrating to find out the students were receiving death threats.

“I understand the need for protection [by] not letting people know, but as Ashley said, the victims should not be the ones who are not protected,” Barlow said in the board meeting. 

In the meeting, Wyler said it is frustrating that when a student comes to them with a serious matter, once the information is passed onto administrators, they are no longer allowed to know if anything has been resolved.

“When I see the student who has been sexually harassing other students or who has been making transphobic comments back in the hall the very next day like nothing happened,it hurts me a little bit,” Wyler said in the meeting.

The Observer contacted Wyler on April 15; she declined an interview, but in an email response said, “After the board meeting, I spoke with the building admin and my concerns have been addressed and resolved.” 

Barlow’s interview with The Observer 

Barlow is the advisor for EHS’s Gay Straight Alliance and said they are constantly having conversations about how students can bring attention to the difficulties they face.

“We have administrators who… they just don’t have that experience,” Barlow said. “They’re male, they don’t come at the situation from the viewpoint of the students who are LGBTQ+.”

According to Barlow, there is training that the staff is supposed to be receiving that is required by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and Washington State law, but the staff has not yet received this training. 

“Administrators [and] staff are required to have a training to avoid bias, and training so that everybody understands what protected classes are, what discriminatory harassment looks like and what it is and how it’s addressed,” Barlow said. 

According to Barlow, there are trainings about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Barlow said she asked why they never got this training and administration said that they were working on it. The staff only received a letter from the school that they had to read and then sign. 

“We got audited by OSPI because we weren’t doing what we were supposed to as far as supporting LGBTQIA+,” Barlow said. 

OSPI then sent a PowerPoint training that the staff was supposed to read through themselves and then check off a box that they completed, according to Barlow. 

“I don’t feel like that’s a training,” Barlow said. “If people aren’t interested, they’re just not going to do it. Nothing is stopping anyone from just checking the box and saying, ‘Oh yeah, I did it.’”

Barlow said one of her frustrations is that she feels like the choices made in the school district are because of the Ellensburg community. 

“The reasoning that was given [is], ‘well, the community thinks this way’ or ‘the community believes this and we don’t want to go against the community, we’ll lose FTA (full-time equivalent),’” Barlow said. “We’ll lose funding if people pull their kids out of school.”

Barlow said she doesn’t understand why the school district isn’t protecting the students. 

“We’re not protecting the students who need protecting the most,” Barlow said. “We’re giving in to people who are already kind of in a privileged category, and I don’t understand that at the expense of students at all.”

Barlow said it is heartbreaking when she hears that students no longer want to come to school. 

“Students in the LGBTQ+ community are already at a much higher risk of self-harm, of suicide, etc. and so we’re just increasing that potential,” Barlow said.