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Many students dispute denials of gay harassment | News, Sports, Jobs

NEW ULM — A special assembly was held at New Ulm High School on Tuesday in response to news stories citing anti-gay comments made during basketball games against an openly gay player on the St. Peter team.

The Journal heard multiple recordings of the assembly made by students who were attending.

NUHS Principal Mark Bergmann opened the assembly telling students, “Everything in the media, everything in the paper, everything you read is not always the fact.”

Bergmann addressed the incident of the four students firing gel blasters at the St. Bergmann. Peter bus. He described it as four students who did something wrong and have been disciplined. Bergmann said another student made a mistake with words and was also disciplined.

School officials have refused to disclose what disciplinary action was taken.

Bergmann disputed the idea these incidents reflect the character of NUHS.

“I don’t believe that is who we are as a school” he said. “I don’t believe that perception is real.”

Bergmann added that although he believed media perception of NUHS was false, he was willing to work on ways to improve inclusivity.

Student Council members also address the assembly, saying they believed it was important to clarify what the school stands for as a student body. According to the council, the core pillars of the student body are character, integrity, inclusion, diversity and equity.

Members of the Eagle Squadrons, the student cheering section, also spoke during the assembly and repeated statements that a lot of things said in the media were “untrue.”

The assembly became more tense after the New Ulm basketball player who allegedly made anti-gay comments and allegedly pinched the St. Peter player addressed the school.

This player opened his comments by declaring, “I have nothing against the LGBTQ students.”

The recordings indicate there was verbal opposition from students who did not believe this statement.

The player denied making anti-gay statement during the Feb. 15 game. He admitted to the St. Peter player as “the gay kid.”

The player said, “When I was getting subbed out of the game, a teammate came in, and I told him who I was guarding, and I said, ‘I got the gay kid.'”

The player denied making any other slurs or any physical attacks on the St. Peter student. He added that no referees heard or saw anything, and a subsequent investigation confirmed his version of the story.

“I want you to believe the facts and not the lies that are out there.” he said. “The facts are what mattered.”

Multiple students attending the assembly voiced opposition against these denials. Bergmann acknowledged the comments and said the purpose of the assembly was not to be dismissive of concerns.

Bergmann acknowledged the player should not have referred to the student as the gay kid but did not want this incident to overshadow everything else the students had accomplished.

“What defines who we are as a person is how we respect other people,” Bergmann said. “If that’s what we need to spend more time educating on, we can do and we should do that. But it also needs to be the truth. And the truth of the matter isn’t what you are reading in the paper. You guys as a whole student body, you aren’t the bad people the media is portraying you.”

Immediately following this statement, a student yelled out in protest, saying, “You don’t know what it feels like to be shoved in a locker and called a homophobic slur for looking at someone, or to not be able to walk down the hallways safely.”

There was a brief attempt to silence the student, but Bergmann allowed the student to continue, saying “let her talk.”

The student said it was commonplace for them to face homophobic slurs. The student indicated there was a double standard at New Ulm High School for LGBTQ students. The example was boys and girls were able to kiss in the hallways but not two students of the same gender. The student said, “It was not fair at all.”

Bergmann agreed this was not fair and thanked the student for speaking up.

“Thank you for saying that, because it is the truth and we need to know it,” Bergmann said. “How you feel and how others feel, so these things don’t happen.”

Other comments were made regarding the lack of discipline placed on the basketball player. Students said the pinching behavior is harrassament, and there were questions why he was not punished further.

Bergmann said there was disciplinary action taken on the student based on information received from St. Peter, but said the school cannot pile on punishments associated with the situation.

As more students spoke up, Bergmann said, “This is good for us as administration and staff to hear multiple sides of things, so we can work on lessons and services and things we need to do to make positive changes in the school.”

The assembly closed, but Bergmann promised the issue is not closed. He said there would be more work and research done.

In a separate interview on Wednesday, Bergmann said following the assembly, staff and school counselors met and agreed further dialogue with the school’s LGBTQ community was needed. A meeting with staff and students in the LGBTQ community is scheduled next Monday.

“You don’t solve issues at assembly,” said Bergmann, characterizing the assembly as a way of opening communication.

“It opened our eyes to some of the pain students are going through,” he said. “We need to listen to our students.”

Bergmann clarified that after the Feb. 15 game, the St. Peter High School activity director contacted New Ulm’s activity director about what had occurred. Based on this information provided by St. Peter, NUHS took action, but data privacy concerns preventing disclosure of these actions.

The school was unaware of any additional incidents until the Star Tribune article was published on March 11.

Bergmann said it was important to him that all students are treated well. He’s hopeful the meeting with students on Monday will help identify barriers in reporting anti-gay harassment.

Bergmann said he has heard from students that teachers do address concerns but not to the extent needed.

“This is not going to be easy, and it is not going to be done overnight,” he said.

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