The Unfortunately True Story of Two Lesbians Outed and Disciplined for Holding Hands

In Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, two girls held hands and the world came crashing down. Consequentially, the lesbians have been banned from holding hands while walking to class because what’s next, dogs holding hands? They’ve also been threatened with suspension. Furthermore, the principal outed them to their parents! One girl was already out, but the other wasn’t. Yeah. So!

The girls, who are indeed girlfriends, say they’d been warned before about holding hands but, confused about why straight kids were allowed to hold hands but they weren’t, continued holding hands.

One of the girls told the South Florida Times:

“We were walking to class when he rolled up on his golf cart and said, ‘Didn’t I tell you two to stop doing do that?’ and then he took us to his office. He gave us a speech and then separated us before calling our parents, which was wrong. My mother already knew but my friend’s mom didn’t know she is into girls.”

In other words (via Queerty):

Two weeks ago, Karlton Johnson the Principal of Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida spotted two students holding hands, and he jumped in his Princemobile (a golf cart) to chase them down, separate them, and then call their parents to gossip about them. Yeesh. If ever there was a situation that called for an It Gets Better video, this is it.

This is his contact information:

Principal Karlton Johnson:
email karlton.johnson@browardschools.com
phone 754.322.0955

One of the girls, a junior with a 3.5 grade point average, emailed school officials regarding this incident, saying:

“There has been a situation in my upcoming [sic] school, Blanche Ely High, dealing with discrimination against the gay/lesbian community. Our principal here has tried to suspend me and my friend for holding hands. And I would like to know if such actions are necessary for something so fragile.”

North Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi was sent the complaint and on May 13th. Her response? TOTALLY OKAY! Totally within his rights and so forth. Also:

“However, let me take this opportunity to share with you that our District operates under what is termed as ‘site-based/school-based’ management system. This means that the principal, within the guidelines of District’s policies, has jurisdiction to create in-house measures that impact the entire school. These measures fall under the principal’s purview as a site-based manager.

“It is my understanding that the holding of hands on campus is not an acceptable practice at Blanche Ely High School. This practice is applicable to all students, regardless of age, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national origin, religious sects, as indentified in School Board’s Nondiscrimination Policy.”

Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs wasn’t so sure. On Monday night, her public outreach coordinator distributed an email to the media:

According to the article, earlier this month the school’s principal confronted an interracial lesbian couple who were holding hands, brought them into his office, gave them a speech and then separately called their mothers, one of which did not know that her daughter was gay.  The School Board has cleared the principal of any wrongdoing, stating that the school has a blanket policy against holding hands that applies to all genders, races, sexual orientations, etc.  However, a search of Blanche Ely High School’s website links only to the School Board’s code of conduct, and does not reference any school-specific policy against hand-holding.

Commissioner Jacobs was frustrated to learn that this kind of discrimination is happening in our schools in this era.  She believes that Broward County passed a Human Rights Ordinance for a reason, and singling out gay students for an innocuous, harmless activity like holding hands is not within the spirit of that ordinance or the community.

A senior pastor of the Pompano Beach Worldwide Christian Center Church is supporting the principal despite being critical of him in the past. In fact he’s not sure when everyone discarded the memo about cooties and lust:

“I am surprised there is not a clear policy that prohibits all kids from hugging, kissing or holding hands/ He should be commended for trying to make the school a better environment for learning.”

The Director of Youth and Family for Sunshine Social Service Inc (I have no idea) told the South Florida Times she was ‘particularly concerned that the school district supports “outing” or revealing a student’s sexuality.’

“It’s irresponsible because these kids are literally being put in danger. I see it all the time. The parents are not prepared to hear this information and the youths end up abused or homeless after being thrown out of the house. This is serious.”

Her response to the principal’s decision?

“I think that it’s a homophobic reaction from the principal because clearly they are not suspending boys and girls for holding hands, only gays. We are talking about holding hands here, not kissing or some other activity.”

This is undeniably problematic. But it’s also awesome that these girls are standing up for themselves. It keeps happening, kids speaking out — kids who can’t wear what they want in the yearbook or take a girl to prom or be on this-or-that court with another lady. In some areas of the country, this generation has grown up in a much more tolerant universe than the one I knew or people older than me knew. They also have more access to media than ever before because of the internet, which means a shorter path to having local stories told nationally.

A video of the story can be seen on CBS News. CBS was, in a tragic convergence of a bad event + a devastatingly horrible event, not the only camera crew on campus this week. The Broward County School Board just awarded a $1 million settlement to a student who was raped by her math teacher at Blanche Ely. The survivor’s attorney says two other female students had complained to school officials about the math teacher being inappropriate, but he continued teaching because school officials report that in situations like this,“they typically believe the teacher and not the student.” Katerria, now 19, held a press conference Wednesday morning, speaking out /showing her face for the first time. She wants victims of sexual abuse to know that they are not alone. She plans to go to law school.

These are some brave kids. I hope adults figure out sooner rather than later how to do right by them.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now — she is currently plotting her return to the West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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64 Comments

  1. 0

    What a crock of bullshit.

    And that pastor sounds like a really warm and friendly person. Guidelines that prohibit students from HUGGING? HOLDING HANDS? Well shit, if my high school (which was an all girls school) had such guidelines, we’d have ALL been suspended many times.

      • 0

        my school claimed it was clogging hallways. then they were like “SHIT we dont have enough room in detention” so they reversed they policy and all of my teachers were like “THANK GOD we dont have to get kids in trouble all the time for nothing.” you’d be surprised at the intelligent minds running schools nowadays.

  2. 0

    a one dollar settlement? what horrible experience, teachers are in positions of authority and you’re supposed to be able to trust them.

    this school board seems like it needs to sit down and reexamine where its opinions are coming from.

  3. 0

    Holding hands? Cripes. That’s just a whole new level of narrow mindedness. What a horrible, horrible example these educators are setting.:-/ I hope the girls stay strong.

    At the high school of one of my exes, holding hands and sitting intimately together were one of the things that were frowned upon by the administration. Some teachers went as far as to give students a little rap on the hands with a wooden ruler. If they saw anything that even remotely looked like an expression of romantic affection between students, you’d be in trouble.

    Granted, this is the Philippines (and we have no hate crime laws at all). And that school was an all-girls Catholic school. But I went to the same school (in a different part of the country. Mine was in the country, hers was in the city) and teachers were the first ones to greet people on their anniversaries/monthsaries. You just never know when bigotry is going to rear its ugly head.

  4. 0

    The school where I work has the same policy of no hugging, hand holding, etc. It’s meant to keep students focused and keep the learning environment safe. But yeah, suspending and outing a student for holding hands is awful.

  5. 0

    What a bunch of crap. Obviously this dude isn’t enforcing this rule with all the other students, otherwise EVERYONE would be suspended. I hope he crashes his golf cart into a tree and breaks both of his arms.

  6. 0

    Reading articles like this make me grateful for the high school I went to. Hand-holding and hugging were fine, I never saw anyone get in trouble for kissing, and the best part? The gay kids did it too AND NO ONE CARED. Not the students, not the teachers, not the administration. Best high school ever.
    So therefore, it genuinely shocks me that shit like this is happening all over the country, when it’s completely true that other high schools are in fact fair, open, and welcoming environments. That’s what a high school should be, right?

  7. 0

    Shit like this makes me kind of grateful for the somewhat draconian laws my Catholic schools had. Everyone was forbidden from hugging or holding hands. Of course we also had skirt-length rules and weren’t allowed to take our blazers or jumpers off until June.

    • 0

      We had similar draconian laws, but often times it came across as just petty.

      One of my favorite memories is when two of my lesbian friends got ‘caught’ holding hands and snuggling. The teachers began flipping out (WHAT IF SEXING HAD HAPPENED?!). I was standing in the hallway watching it unfold (possibly making faces at my friends from behind the teachers backs).

      One girl got pissed and grabbed her girlfriend and stomped out. On the way by me she grabbed me by the arm and dragged me off as well, shouting something like, “SCREW YOU! WE’RE ALL GOING TO GO HAVE A BIG LESBIAN SHOWER IN THE LOCKER ROOMS! HOW DOES THAT SOUND? ANYONE ELSE WANT TO COME?”

  8. 0

    Hand holding can be very distracting I remember the first time I touched a girls hand all I could think about was having sex with her. I couldn’t think about math or anything just sex. Some teachers blamed my A.D.D but really it was that one girls hand that did it. If only I had some level headed administrator to save me from myself I could have turned out to be an astrophysicist

  9. 0

    Okay, the hand holding thing is totally ridonkulously ridiculously anti-gay. But why the hell did the Broward lady include that they were interracial? WHO CARES??? Why was that relevant?

  10. 0

    I am hoping with The Rapture happening this Saturday there will be less assholes like that principal around.. and the gays will be free to do their heathen hand-holding. That is a sign of the apocalypse, right? Two girls holding hands?

  11. 0

    When I was 15 my principal tried to “out me” to my sister that I was living with. I was out to everyone in my life, my sister just asked what the hell that had to do with school.The sad part was that they new because they had found a note this girl had wrote me, telling me she loved me. Her parents were not happy, I had her mom calling me telling me to stay away from her family. Her home life was hell after that.

  12. 0

    Open displays of affection including hand holding, hugging, and quick kisses were allowed at my high school for both hetero and queer couples. In addition, while I was in my junior year our history teacher transitioned FTM. And you know what? Everyone stopped learning, the school burned down, and we all ended up jobless and educationless. WAIT. Actually, everything was fine the whole time and all of those things were total non-issues.

  13. 0

    fuck everything about that principal outing her to her parents. that didn’t have anything to so with the supposed “no hand-holding” rule in question, which apparently is not enforced for the straights so that’s just ridiculous. he really felt the need to call the parents over that? I just find it kinda odd that heteros often feel so compelled to spend their time agonizing over anything gay-related that shouldn’t even affect them.

  14. 0

    So, wait, was the same principal in charge when a student got raped and then for this gay bashing incident? How can the same person possibly still be in charge? Seems like the email addresses you need to be posting are those of the school board members so they can be urged to get rid of that principal.

  15. 0

    I heard this story mentioned today on a morning show out of the D.C. area. Even the normally somewhat douchey/straight/annoying show hosts thought it was ridiculous.

  16. 0

    Totally just emailed this guy. Tried to be as polite as possible so he might actually read it. Linked to this article so hopefully he’ll understand what he’s done?
    Can’t believe this stuff is still happening. Glad I’m able to hold hands with my friends at my school.

  17. 0

    Ok. Here’s how you deal with handholding/inoffensive snuggling in a school if it isn’t allowed/is happening when something serious (like learning something serious) is supposed to be happening.

    “….PDA” ….hard stare.

    Actually sometimes just raising eyebrows makes it obvious that no, actually, we need to focus on this incredibly informative movie blah blah.

    THAT would be all it takes.

    Anything past that in this situation is just straight up bigotry.

  18. 0

    Shit like this really burns my toast. Magiclovemuffin and Softly are right – the school board is just as much at fault for letting this douchebag get away with this as he is for being said douchebag. In fact, a little pressure on them to get rid of him would make all the difference in his world, don’t you think?

    So after I e’d the dude with my fondest wishes, I decided to dig y’all up a little present. Wanna really make trouble for him? Email the school board. Go ahead. Have at ’em, ladies.

    http://www.browardschools.com/schoolboard/email.htm

    BTW, our favorite a-hole is in District 5 – but feel free to reach out to them all. Maybe write a little screed and send it to each of them. I’m sure they’re looking forward to hearing from you.

  19. 0

    I personally find this incident enraging mostly because holding hands IS harmless. We hold hands and skip and play all throughout elementary school, and suddenly, it’s a violation of school regulations in high school? What utter bullshit. I think it takes quite a bit more courage and effort to hold hands in public when you’re in a relationship that doesn’t appear to be straight, although this might just be me. Holding hands is like an act of defiance to the intolerant conservatism in the world, like, “We’re here, and we’re here together. You can’t knock us down now.” I probably read too much into it, but even just holding hands means a lot to me, especially when it’s with someone I really care about.

    I commend both girls for their bravery and determination to fight against the discrimination they face.

  20. 0

    Reblogged this article and got this anonymous response on the wrong post actually:

    Anonymous said…
    The School Board of Broward County, Florida, prohibits any policy or procedure which results in discrimination on the basis of age, color, disability, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, marital status, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. Individuals who wish to file a discrimination and/or harassment complaint may call the Executive Director, Benefits & EEO Compliance at 754-321-2150 or Teletype Machine (TTY) 754-321-2158. Individuals with disabilities requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may call Equal Educational Opportunities (EEO) at 754-321-2150 or Teletype Machine (TTY) 754-321-2158.

    http://non-neurotypical.blogspot.com/2011/05/if-i-should-have-daughter.html#comments

    Which actually annoys me a little bit

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