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The LGBT Hate Crimes Project: Wayland Union High School

I read about an attack on a lesbian student at Wayland Union High School, near Grand Rapids, MI, via Ed’s blog.

Police in Wayland, Mich., are investigating an attack by two 14-year-old girls on a third girl in Wayland Union High School. The victim was identified as a supporter of gay rights. The June 10 attack was purposely recorded on a cell phone video by another female, police say.

Wayland is located south of Grand Rapids and according to the city’s Web site has a population of 3,939 people.

Police told Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV 8, the NBC affiliate, the two girls attacked the victim because she was a “gay rights advocate.”

Chief Dan Miller of the Wayland Police told the Kalamazoo Gazette the 14-year-old victim identified herself as a lesbian.

“I guess some say she’s pretty outspoken, and the other two girls didn’t like that,” he said in the Gazette. “We were told by the two suspects it was over the sex-orientation issue that they don’t believe in.

It was around the same time that I was researching the murders of Simmie Williams and Lawrence King, both of whom were harassed in school. I guess it interested me because of that, and because I was harassed in school. But I was fortunate never to experience something like this.

Kaltura

First, I was never physically assaulted except for being shoved around the locker room (which was enough). I managed to avoid getting into fights by just staying out of situations that might lead to one, and by being a pretty quick talker. Second, the worst I have to worry about was finding something written about me on the bathroom wall. But being the target of a planned beating? One recorded on video, for the purpose of uploading to YouTube and every other video site, thus taking humiliation to an an entirely new level?

No. The most we had when I was in school was the bathroom wall, passing notes in class, and “meet me by the flagpole after school.” And that was bad enough.

One thing that stood out to me as I was updating the Wayland entry with the sentencing of the two main girls involved in the fight. was what one girl — said to be the main “instigator,” planning the attack, recruiting help, and being the first to grab the victim by the hair — said to the judge, in hopes that he wouldn’t sentence her to juvenile detention.

VanderLaan stood before Allegan County Family Court Judge Michael Buck on Monday, hoping to persuade him not to order detention.

“If I go to (detention), I would have to miss church, and I love church,” she said.

But Buck described the attack as harsh and premeditated, deserving a tougher sentence.

She would miss church. (Her parents got her counseling after the attack, both professional and through her church.) That stood out to me, too, given how often people use their religion to justify opposing anti-bullying programs in schools.

I wonder what they would think about what happened at Wayland Union High.

Wayland High School

On June 10, 2008 two female students at Wayland Union High School — Crystal VanderLaan and Sydnee Rae Longhurst — attacked a third female student, who was identified as a gay rights activist. Video of the attack was recorded on cell phone by another female student.

The Background

The three students who planned the attack were cleaning out their lockers at about 1:30 p.m. on June 10, the last day of school. They surrounded the victim, and the fight broke out.1)

The Attack

Witnesses said the two attackers grabbed the victim’s hair and clothing from behind.

The video shows the victim, a freshman, having conversation with another student when the two other female students attack her. Wayland Police Chief Dan Miller said that investigators knew the attack was planned from looking at the school’s videotapes, and that other students knew the fight was coming. Witnesses told authorities that the suspects had changed clothes and pulled their hair back just before the fight started.2) The suspects also approached other students and asked if they wanted to take part in the fight. The other students declined.3)

The Motive

The 14-year-old victim identified herself as lesbian.4) Chief Miller told the Kalamazoo Gazette, “We were told by the two subjects that it was over the sexual-orientation issue they don’t believe in.”5) The alleged attackers told police that they did not agree with the victim’s advocacy for gay rights.6)

The victim told her father that she had gotten into an argument with one of her attackers with one of her attackers a few hours earlier.7) The incident was precipitated by several verbal spats and incidents of name-calling between the suspects and the victim. Fellow students said the victim was often the instigator in the verbal spats.8)

The Aftermath

The victim suffered multiple cuts and bruises to her face, and a possible broken nose.9)

Video from the fight was posted to popular web video sites hours later.10)

Reports of the attack raised concerns among gay rights advocates, and re-ignited calls for the passage of an anti-bullying bill and a hate crimes bill. The anti-bullying bill passed the Democratically controlled Michigan House a year earlier, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee.11)

Because the two alleged attackers were younger than 18, the FBI did not investigate potential hate crime charges.12)

On June 30, 2008, the Wayland school board decided to expel Vanderlann for her part in the attack. Longhurst had moved out of the district by then, and could not be disciplined by the school board. The board met in closed-session for more than two hours for hearing and debate, before voting unanimously for expulsion.13)

On July 9, 2008, Miller announced that no charges would be filed against the student who recorded video of the attack. Miller had had asked the Allegan County prosecutor’s office to determine if the student’s actions showed that she was part of a conspiracy to commit aggravated assault. The prosecutor’s office decided there was not enough evidence to charge her.14)

On July 2, Vanderlaan and Longhurst were charged with aggravated assault. If convicted, they face a maximum of one year in juvenile detention and a $1,000 fine.15)

Community Response

In response to the attack, a group of Wayland area residents forged ahead with forming the Wayland Area Diversity Coalition, and plans to educate other area residents about diversity of all types: racial, religious, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or physical and mental disabilities. The coalition organized monthly public forums, to be led by professional speakers.16)

Sentences

On September 30, 2008, Longhurst was sentenced to spend six weekends in juvenile detention and perform 20 hours of community service. “I know I did something wrong,” Longhurst said before her sentencing. She was placed on indefinite probation.17)

On Monday, November 3, 2008, Vanderlaan was sentenced to spend six weekends in juvenile detention and perform 20 hours of community service. She must also write a letter of apology to the victim. Vanderlaan’s attorney said Vanderlaan saw her behavior as “embarrassing.

Vanderlaan herself spoke to Judge Michael Buck during the hearing, hoping to persuade him not to order detention. “If I go to (detention), I would have to miss church, and I love church,” she said.

However, the country prosecutor said Vanderlaan seemed to have instigated the attack, recruited help, then was the one to grab the victim by the hair and pull her backward.

Vanderlan was required to serve her detention time over 18 days, from 6:30 p.m. Friday to 4:00 p.m. Sunday.18)

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