May 18, 1997
Why do you think kids began picking on you?
In my seventh-grade year, when most kids were starting to talk about girls and beginning to date, I started to become more introverted because I knew I was gay. That made me a target for being picked on. The words of choice were"faggot" and "queer." I wouldn't deny that, so that made me an easier target. I had already come out to my parents when I was 11.
How did your parents react to your coming out?
My mother's reaction was that she already knew and that she was just waiting for me to tell her. (I had a gay uncle, my mother's brother having him in my life made it a lot easier to know that it was OK to be gay.) My father was upset. He hadhoped that it was just a phase and I was going to be able to change. When they were going through the abuse with me and trying to get it to stop, [they realized] that nobody would choose to go through what I was going through.
When did the abuse turn from verbal to physical?
Toward the end of seventh grade it was basically pushing and tripping. Then it escalated and got worse and worse every year. After the mock rape in eighth grade, I went directly to the principal's office and told her what happened. Herresponse was, "If you're going to be openly gay you have to expect this kind of stuff. Boys will be boys."
Why didn't you fight back?
My father had a problem with that. He asked, "Why let them beat you up when you're so much bigger than them?" I remember being frustrated, wondering why I didn't fight back either. But it wasn't who I was I couldn't have fought back,it just wasn't in me.
[Nabozny decided at the age of 16, in the middle of his junior year, that he had to leave the school. With his parents' support, he moved to Minneapolis, where he lived in a foster family the deacon of a gay church and his lover and a lesbiancouple and took his G.E.D.]
What made you decide that you had to leave?
Basically I got physically beaten pretty bad I had to have surgery to correct the problem that was one of the biggest reasons. Kids also threatened that they would kill me, and my brothers [both younger, both in the same school] and parentswere getting harassed. There were phone calls threatening to burn down my parents' home.
How did the situation get so bad?
I definitely believe with all my heart it's because the administration did nothing. Every single time they refused to do anything they were saying it was OK to harass me... Optimistically, I kept going back [to administrators] and every time itwas still ignored. The assistant principal said I had to be provoking it.
No. I think in a way that if I would have denied that I was gay from seventh grade on, if I had played the role I was supposed to play and did the things I was supposed to do, I probably could have avoided the abuse. That doesn't mean I deservedit.
When did you decide to sue?
A therapist diagnosed me as having post-traumatic stress disorder. I realized [the abuse] had affected every part of my life school, my relationships. Somebody needed to answer to that. Also at this point I realized I wasn't the only kid inthe world who went through this.
Have you ever encountered any of the kids who abused you?
The only one I've seen is the one who testified at my trial his mother and him both came forward to testify for me. It was really awkward. He said things in an almost unfeeling kind of way, matter-of-factly [about the mock rape, theurination].
Did he say why he did these things?
He said his religious beliefs made him feel it was OK to do that. Now he realizes his religious beliefs didn't say it was OK, but he still thinks being gay is wrong.
What are you going to do with the award money?
A third went to attorney fees most of the rest went into a trust fund. It will give me an income for the next 20 years [and go] toward education and hopefully someday to start a group home for gay and lesbian kids.
What's it like being a "National Role Model"?
It's weird. I'm being recognized in other cities. When I was in San Francisco in the Castro, at every block, I swear: "Aren't you the kid from Wisconsin?"
Is it at least a good way to get dates?
I'm way too busy to be dating. People tell me, "You don't have time for a life."
What kind of stories are you hearing from other kids?
Unfortunately, the stories are the same [as mine]. In Detroit I talked to 50 or 75 kids in this youth center, and I had at least three kids who were going through what I had gone through the physical stuff. These kids were trying to get helpand were being blamed as the cause of the problem.
Is that surprising? That it's still so bad even in the present climate?
When any group tries to achieve any level of civil rights the backlash is stronger than it ever was. But kids are becoming a lot stronger, and with my case I hope that they realize that they're not alone.