Years of denial finally ended when the district tossed out its "no homo promo" policy and agreed to five years of DOJ monitoring as well as a raft of anti-harassment precautions.

"This is a groundbreaking, historic agreement that will be used as a model across the country to deal with these issues," says attorney Zachary Stephenson, who helped represent the students.

One of the conditions of the settlement is that the Anoka-Hennepin School District is required to hire several consultants on sex discrimination and mental health. In the running for one of those positions is Jamie Nabozny, who has firsthand experience. Growing up in small-town Wisconsin, he was shoved into lockers, urinated on and beaten so badly in a hallway that he had to have stomach surgery.

The suicide of Tammy Aaberg’s (right) son Justin inspired U.S. Senator Al Franken (center) to pen the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act.
Courtesy Tammy Aaberg
The suicide of Tammy Aaberg’s (right) son Justin inspired U.S. Senator Al Franken (center) to pen the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act.

In 1996 Nabozny sued the school's administrators. His bully took the stand and testified that their principal knew about the violent abuse. The jury found that Nabozny deserved equal protection based on sexual orientation under the U.S. Constitution and awarded him almost $1 million.

"That hadn't been done before," says Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director at Lambda Legal, the firm that represented Nabozny. "And still we're lacking a federal law that is specific on protection for students on the basis of sexual orientation."

Nabozny realized how little had changed since his experience and started speaking in schools two years ago. He's since received apologies from former classmates and even the children of his bullies.

"A lot of people in the country don't care if gay people have the right to marry — they didn't think too much about LGBT rights," Nabozny says. "Then people saw kids were killing themselves and said, 'Wait a minute, this isn't OK.'"

On a recent evening, Nabozny looked skeptically at his reflection in a multifaceted mirror. He was dressed in a sleek black tuxedo coat.

"Can't we just wear suits?" he begged.

"No," answered Bo Shafer, the man standing next to him wearing a matching ivory tuxedo coat.

In September Nabozny and Shafer are getting married in front of 150 guests, despite the fact that the nuptials will not be legally binding.

"We still have people who are very intolerant out there — they're fighting our right to be with who we want to be with, and love who we want to love," Nabozny explains. "The marriage debate is much more heated and controversial. Protecting kids in school is not."

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