Lesbian Teacher Fights for Her Job Back
When Julia Frost applied for a teaching position with the Hesperia Unified School District, she figured it would be a perfect place to work. The district’s Sultana High School was only 25 miles from her home in Wrightwood, nestled in southern California’s San Gabriel Mountains.
"It was close to home and I was familiar with the area," said Frost. "I had no idea of the problems at the school."
Her first inkling after being hired to teach English in August 2011 came when Frost revealed she had a female partner to a co-worker and within days was called to the principal’s office for a meeting.
"He couldn’t say the word partner. He stuttered through it," Frost, 42, recalled during an interview last week with the Bay Area Reporter. "It was really, really uncomfortable and degrading."
Asked by a straight co-worker to help advise the school’s gay-straight alliance, Frost was soon being approached by students who complained of being bullied and harassed by other teachers and school administrators. Their complaints included teachers using "that’s so gay" in class and harassing a lesbian gender-nonconforming student elected homecoming queen.
When they tried to file official complaints about the abusive behavior, the students were rebuffed, they said, by school administrators and sought Frost’s assistance. She in turn reached out to the teacher’s union and met with school officials in the fall of 2012 to discuss the matter and what steps needed to be taken to protect LGBT students as required under California law.
"My legal responsibility was to provide them a classroom free of harassment and to intervene because of Seth’s Law in incidents of harassment or bullying," said Frost, who was in San Francisco to address attendees at an April 25 fundraiser for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Yet the anti-gay comments and policies at Sultana High persisted, according to Frost, who continued to assist students’ efforts to file complaints about the homophobic behaviors. In return, school administrators accused her of "teaching homosexuality," said Frost.
Then in February 2013 Frost, who had been hired on a probationary-status with the expectation of obtaining tenure within two years, was informed her teaching contract would not be renewed.
"I was told my contract was not being renewed, and knowing exactly why that was, was the worst moment," said Frost. "Not because of anything other than the fact they are completely repulsed by having a lesbian at their school. It was nothing to do with a professional matter but who you are and how you were born. It was shocking."
The anti-gay atmosphere at the school led the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Nixon Peabody LLP to become involved in March of last year. By August 2013 the school district and the legal groups announced a series of steps that would be taken at Hesperia’s various school sites to foster a more welcoming environment for LGBT and gender non-conforming students.
Last November Frost, who remains unemployed, sued the Hesperia school district in San Bernardino Superior Court with the assistance of Lambda Legal and Pasadena law firm Traber and Voorhees in order to get her job back.
She claims in her lawsuit that her performance as an English teacher at Sultana was deemed "exemplary." An April 2012 evaluation concluded that her first year on the job had been "great" and her administrators "appreciate her hard work," according to court papers.