A Kentucky high school may have omitted a gay basketball player from its yearbook because of his sexual orientation — and, what's worse, it would be legal under state law to do so.
Outsports' Cyd Zeigler reported that Dalton Maldonado, Betsy Layne High School's starting point guard, came out publicly as gay a couple months ago. Since then, the teen said he's been repeatedly harassed — which the school denied, despite various eyewitnesses coming to Maldonado's defense. Now Maldonado claims he was left out of the school's two-page yearbook tribute to the boys basketball team, which featured all the players on the team except him. (School administrators haven't commented on the exclusion.)
The story is heartbreaking and, if true, shows America still has a long way to go before LGBTQ people are truly accepted — even after the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the US. But to make matters worse, this kind of harassment and discrimination is totally legal under Kentucky law, which doesn't protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
37 states don't ban discrimination against all LGBTQ students
It's not just Kentucky: Only 13 states have laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-12 schools, while Wisconsin protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity. So in a great majority of states, LGBTQ students have no explicit legal protections.
The state laws essentially build on the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX, which protect people from discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. Schools and staffers who break the federal laws can face a private lawsuit and risk losing federal funding.
Some LGBTQ advocates argue that legal prohibitions against sex discrimination already protect LGBTQ students. But that interpretation hasn't been affirmed by higher courts, casting uncertainty over whether it would hold up in a legal dispute. The uncertainty is why advocates want explicit legal protections for LGBTQ people: New state or federal laws that add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing nondiscrimination protections would remove any doubt about the reach of laws like the Civil Rights Act and Title IX.
But until that happens, what Maldonado experienced isn't just tragic — it's also not illegal.