When Wisconsin high school junior Gregg Udulutch came out, two freshman girls began saying things like “Oh, look, there goes the fag” as he passed them in the hallway. He reported them to a school official who eventually placed the girls on probation and the harassment stopped for a week or two. Then on the night of April 16th a truck and car began encircling Udulutch’s home and he received a call saying, “Do you think you’re going to get away with talking about my girls? We’re going to find you, we’re going to cut you, we’re going to kill you.” Udulutch reported it to the police. Their response? Police Chief William Riesterer called Udulutch into the school office, accused him of toilet papering the two girls’ houses, yelled at him for making a big deal out of “normal high school stuff,” and blamed the harassment on Udulutch.
Udulutch says he has heard stories about people who report harassment and have no one take it seriously until the harassed person gets hunted down and killed. Either that or bullying victims end up killing themselves instead of living in constant fear and humiliation. And while Udulutch says a completed school investigation will yield consequences for the girls, neither Superintendent Deb Hunt nor Principal Ellen Bartling have said what kind. Another Valders High School students says no disciplinary action has taken place at all.
We hear often it’s the schools failing to protect gay students, but in this case it’s the Valders’ police who need some serious re-education. (Chief Riesterer insisted to a reporter “this is not, in my opinion, a newsworthy story.”) Valders Sheriff Rob Hermann said that his department didn’t follow up on Udulutch’s initial report of phone harassment because “deputies don’t have time to call back after investigating every complaint.” Even murderous ones against teens.
But even California courts take violent threats from teenagers seriously; it’s time police, even in small Wisconsin towns, start doing the same. It’s ridiculous the chief could go to Udulutch’s school, presumably hear about his harassment at the hands of these girls, and conclude it was somehow Udulutch’s fault. At the very least, the students in question should have been sternly warned about the seriousness of this case; the school should have in place a gay-straight alliance and an anti-bullying policy; and parents should be briefed on the ramifications of bullying and their responsibility in fighting it.
If not, they could very well end up with a dead teen on their hands, whether through violence or, if the taunts are truly terrible, suicide. And no town wants to be another statistic.