'This lawsuit was me regaining my power, that I did not have for a long time,' they said. 'I know I have that back now.'
Trigger Warning: This article contains details of bullying that may be distressing to readers.
Back in 2020, a non-binary student named Lior Onaly-Kelsey, who uses they/them pronouns, filed a lawsuit against their school district for its failure to prevent bullying towards them. The Oregon teen ended up winning the lawsuit after a federal jury in Eugene, Oregon, found that Greater Albany Public School discriminated against Onaly-Kelsey when they were in elementary school. The now 15-year-old attended Oak Grove Elementary School in 2015 when they were in second grade. A year later, they identified as non-binary. They told ABC affiliate KEZI that they experienced harassment and bullying during that time. "A student had threatened to pull my pants down and show the world who I truly was," Onaly-Kelsey said. “People called me the F-slur, they told me I was the devil spawn."
Onaly-Kelsey's mother, Elaine Kelsey, recalled that their child was having a hard time as a result of the bullying. "We were driving in the car and they said to me, 'Mom, you're a great mom. My family loves me, but what's happening at school—I just see that nobody in the world will accept somebody like me,'" Elaine said. "I remember very clearly I was in a spot where I couldn't pull off the road and I was just trying to keep them from jumping out of the car."
Elaine decided she had to take swift action and contacted school authorities to help deal with the situation. "At first, I was optimistic," Elaine told KPTV. "I thought the school would do something about it and then when that didn't happen and [the bullying] continued to happen over and over again and continued to go on, that's when it got really scary because their mental health was deteriorating."
The family did not receive the help they needed and shifted Onaly-Kelsey to another district so that they could finish 5th grade, The Washington Post reported. Onaly-Kelsey filed a lawsuit against Greater Albany Public School, accusing district employees of knowing about the "hostile educational environment" that the young student was in but not addressing it. The student eventually was awarded a $300,000 settlement after a 12-person jury determined the district and a former principal discriminated against them because of their gender.
According to PEOPLE, Caitlin Mitchell, an attorney representing Onaly-Kelsey, responded to the decision by saying, "I hope that this verdict will send a message to school districts across the country that they must follow this country's laws prohibiting gender-based discrimination and protect all students from harassment and bullying." Onaly-Kelsey added in a statement issued by their legal representatives, "I am so glad that there was justice. This lawsuit was me regaining my power, that I did not have for a long time. I know I have that back now."
As for The Greater Albany Public School District, they released a statement regarding the case, saying, "Our district is leaning on the Oregon Department of Education's Supporting Gender expansion students' guidance, which was released just this January. This guidance helps our staff understand how best to support our LGBTQ+ students and create classroom environments in which all students may thrive." The district added that they also created a new equity, diversity and inclusion department back in 2021. A spokesperson for the district also pointed out that "no members of our current School Board were serving in 2017."