Bullied Gay Teen Fights Ariz. School District
A gay Arizona teen who was bullied so relentlessly he once considered suicide is drawing national attention to pressure his former school district to implement tougher bullying policies.
Merik Castro, a 14-year-old from Avondale, Ariz., says recent policy changes adopted by the Litchfield Elementary School District fall short of fully protecting LGBT students.
After Castro collected more than 3,000 online petition signatures and generated publicity, the school board updated its bullying guidelines at a packed public meeting last month, adding "sexual preference" under its harassment policy. The word "preference" implies that orientation is a choice, Castro says, assigning blame to victims.
"It basically says you’re choosing this lifestyle," Castro told EDGE. "You’re choosing to be bullied."
He wants the school district to not only change the wording, but also to adopt further anti-bullying policies. He has already received dozens of petition signatures supporting him. And if the district doesn’t comply, he plans to sue or recall school board members.
"If [the school district] would’ve done something, I wouldn’t have to share my story," he said. "There are students being bullied and nothing’s being done about it."
Castro said he was called names, pushed into lockers and taunted so severely by his classmates at Wigwam Creek Middle School that he wrote a suicide letter. He eventually reached out to Caleb Laieski, a 16-year-old activist for bullied LGBT youth.
After Laieski sent in an anonymous tip about a student being bullied for his sexual orientation, the school focused on Castro and launched an investigation. Three students were eventually suspended and Castro transferred schools.
"I feel like they expelled me out to get rid of the problem," he said. "They got rid of the victim, but not the bullying."
Ann Donahue, community liaison for the Litchfield Elementary School District, said Castro chose to transfer. She could not confirm allegations that the superintendent pulled aside Castro and his mother, a school district employee, and pressed them with questions about his sexual orientation.
"She told me, ’Well now that you’re choosing this alternative lifestyle, there come consequences and you’re going to get bullied,’" recalled Castro.