A gay dad is suing a school district in Queens after his child allegedly suffered years of anti-LGBTQ bullying and faced hostility from school officials.
For two years, the sixth-grader — identified in court papers as “D.S.” — was allegedly harassed for being gay at IS 126Q, the Albert Shanker School for Visual and Performing Arts at 31-51 21st Street in Astoria, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Federal Court on June 28. The child’s family alleges that the school neglected to stop the bullying against their son, leading the child to contemplate suicide. Instead, the family charges that administrators responded to the harassment with homophobic rhetoric, according to a copy of the lawsuit reviewed by Gay City News.
The harassment allegedly began in 2017, shortly after D.S. came out as gay to his classmates and teachers. While in school, peers ripped the boy for having gay parents, said he was “acting like a girl,” called him “fa—t ass” and “bitch,” and “told him that he would be damned to hell by God because of his ‘lifestyle,'” according to the lawsuit. The boy was also physically assaulted due to his sexual orientation, the lawsuit said.
Jason Cianciotto, the child’s father, told Gay City News that the school failed to protect his son.
“I had falsely made the presumption that when it came to bullying in school, while we couldn’t prevent it from happening consistently, that the school would follow that [anti-discrimination laws] and put a stop to it immediately,” Cianciotto said. “It continued no matter what we did.”
Cianciotto and his husband adopted the boy from foster care. The boy also has a learning disability, which was magnified by the bullying in school.
“Instead of being greeted with the same kind of support and welcoming that he had gotten from our family… he was met with bullying and harassment, and dismissal, and even religious-based condemnation of himself, and his dads,” Cianciotto said.
According to the lawsuit, the school conducted “half-hearted investigations” and “deemed many of D.S.’s complaints unfounded.” School officials allegedly accused D.S of making up the harassment and blamed him for being out about his sexuality, the lawsuit charged. When the boy was told that LGBTQ people are “destined to burn in hell,” administrators allegedly dismissed the incident as a “difference of opinion.”
During a meeting with the school’s dean, Cianciotto said his son was criticized for the wave of homophobic incidents. He alleges that the dean said it was “inappropriate” for the then middle-schooler to discuss his sexual orientation with other students.
“She also said, ‘well, if [D.S] didn’t talk about being gay in school, then these things wouldn’t happen,” Cianciotto said. “The school’s responsibility was to follow the law and stop and prevent the bullying from happening, not to blame my son for it and just try to get him not to be himself.”
On another occasion, students slammed D.S. for writing about the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act or GENDA, which added gender identity and expression as a protected class in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws. While giving a presentation about the report, D.S. detailed the importance of the law and spoke about his uncle, who is a transgender man.
That’s when the child was “immediately cut off by the teacher” and “told to stop reading,” the dad said. According to the lawsuit, the teacher claimed that the topic was “too personal.”
The bullying quickly took a toll on his son’s mental health. The dad said D.S., who appeared to be making progress from years of childhood trauma, began to “poke his fingers into his eyes” and frequently talk about death.
“It was so horrific and tragic and sad to see,” the dad said. “The comfort that he had gotten after living with us over time and approaching his adoption hearing date that was interfered with by what was happening at school.”
The same year that the couple’s son became a target for bullies, a gay Bronx teenager made headlines for fatally stabbing a student after being subjected to years of bullying and failing to receive proper support from school officials. Findings from GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey revealed that anti-LGBTQ bullying and language has persisted in schools.
As the bullying intensified in 2019, Cianciotto and his husband withdrew D.S. from the school in seventh grade. The family is seeking unspecified damages for the alleged abuse. The DOE did not respond to Gay City News’ requests for comment as of press time.
The couple’s son will soon be 15 years old and is now in high school. The dad describes the teens’ new school environment as “different like night and day compared to IS 126.”
To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.