After a California middle school teacher came forward about suffering anti-gay abuse, LGBTQ students are showing their support by sharing similar experiences.
Amy Estes, an educator for 12 years, teaches English at Spring View Middle School in Rocklin. She took a mental health leave earlier this year after claiming her students were bullying her for being gay, ABC10 reports.
Current and former LGBTQ students in the Rocklin school district attended a school board meeting this week and asked the district to foster a more inclusive environment on Estes' behalf.
"A huge range of bullying took place at Rocklin High School not just to me but a lot of people," said recent graduate Connor Cook. "This ranged from small comments of saying, 'That's gay. You're gay. That's gross.' All the way up to to being threatened with violence... and just at some points being told to kill yourself before they do it for you."
Another student at the meeting recalled the time a yard monitor compared her Pride flag to a Nazi or confederate flag.
Estes wrote on her Facebook page earlier this month that she had been cyber-bullied by her students after they discovered she was gay at the start of the school year. Despite her repeated complaints, Estes says school officials did nothing to address her concerns.
"While it is dehumanizing and painful to be outed, my hope was that it would die down," Estes wrote. "Instead, it escalated to the point that I was being harassed in and out of the classroom. When I sought the help and support of my administration, I did not find it."
Estes is now working with a lawyer and state mediator to reach an agreement with the school district, which she hopes will organize a school-wide lesson on tolerance. So far, she says, they have been "unable to find a reasonable solution."
"Their response to me was that there was drama and I should let it die down," she tells ABC10.
Estes, who also works as a comedian, says students began following her on YouTube. One comment from a Rocklin resident read, "Don't be stupid, be a smarty. You can join the Nazi Party. Now accepting dykes."
Later, student Averee O'Connor presented a class project about her perfect Utopian society and declared she would outlaw gay marriage. Estes reportedly told O'Connor that her project, which included bigoted comments like "no homos," was disrespectful.
“As far as we’re concerned, we back the school district 100 percent," O'Connor's parents tell ABC10. "She shouldn’t have her sexual preferences pushed on you and our religious views shouldn’t be pushed on anybody else."
Estes, who says she is suffering from "anxiety and depression," was advised by her doctor to take the mental health leave.
"Hearing those hateful comments about her really hurt me," says Estes' former student Victoria Bonifacio. "She's a really good person and I would never want that for someone like her."
"My thoughts turn to LGBTQIA kids in the community where I teach: I am a 35-year-old woman with a family, a partner, friends, etc.," Estes wrote on Facebook. "How frightening is it to see an adult treated the way I was when you think you might be queer in some way?"
During the board meeting, school board president Todd Lowell said the Rocklin Unified School District is committed to making "all our students, staff and families feel welcome, safe and supported" and that they "take any kind of bullying of staff and or students seriously and investigate thoroughly." Lowell added that the alleged bullying is only one side of the story.