Queer students left terrified after homophobic bullies’ foul group chat exposed

LGBT student Maleena Vanderburg homophobic messages Snapchat

Students protested after school bullies created a Snapchat group to mock LGBT+ students, saying gay kids should “respectfully kill themselves”.

Homophobic bullying by students at Niles New Tech high school in Niles, Michigan came to light Friday (4 June), according to local news station ABC 57.

The Snapchat messages, which were shared with the news station, showed a group of students joking about being “homophobic”. One person wrote that their “pronouns” are “Homo/Phobic”, and another said they are “homophobic too [sic] guys”.

At one point in the messages, one student wrote: “I hate all the gays in our class I wish they would just respectfully kill their selves [sic]”. The message ended with a red heart emoji.

Other students in the chat responded with a “rolling on the floor laughing” emoji while another agreed and said: “Yes respectfully.”

Maleena Vanderburg, one of the LGBT+ teens targeted by the bullies, told ABC 57 that only one of the students out of approximately 10 in the group chat was suspended.

Vanderburg, other students, alumni and parents held a protest outside the school to raise awareness about the horrific behaviour and lack of punishment for the students involved.

“It just hurt a lot to know that somebody would go as far as telling other people to go kill themself,” Vanderburg said.

Another student, who was protesting the school’s inaction, said they are “scared” to be themself “after the whole situation happened”. They told ABC 57 that they “have a lot of clothing” that represents their sexuality and identity, but they’re scared now “that something could happen to me”.

One alum who also attended the protest said they are “disgusted” and “honestly baffled” that “only one student out of the 10” involved was punished for the homophobic behaviour.

Dr Dan Applegate, the school’s superintendent, said in a statement to ABC 57 that Niles Community Schools “strives to be a safe and inclusive place” for all its students. Dr Applegate added that the administration is committed to ensuring that all schools in the district are a “bully-free zone”.

“In light of a recent incident where insensitive comments were posted in a private chat, members of our school community held a demonstration earlier today in front of one of our buildings in support of our LGBTQ+ community,” Dr Applegate said.

He continued: “Our administration has scheduled a meeting with these students to hear their concerns and discuss our ongoing efforts to reinforce respect, tolerance and inclusion within our school community.

“We will continue to encourage students to use their voices to bring awareness to issues that they are passionate about in a respectful, civil and productive manner.”

The protesters told ABC 57 that they may continue their peaceful demonstration depending on the outcome of meetings with school administrators.