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Bullying of Gay Student at FPC Leads to Teacher’s Public Apology and Policy Change

| March 17, 2011

Luke Herbert, formerly a 9th grader at Flagler Palm Coast High School. (Luke Herbert/Facebook)

The third quarter at Flagler Palm Coast High School began in mid-January. For a third quarter elective, Luke Herbert, then a ninth grader at the school, took Floyd Binkley’s shop class. By then Luke, who’s gay, wasn’t doing well at FPC. He was being bullied, harassed for being gay, threatened by fellow students at school and on Facebook, and was physically attacked at school by another students who’d been taunting him with anti-gay slurs. That incident was grave enough to lead to the 10-day suspension of the offending student. Luke was missing day after day, failing three classes, and feeling unwelcome.

“My breaking point came when one of my teachers started telling anti-gay jokes and mocking me in front of the entire class,” Luke said.

In Binkley’s class, he said the discrimination was not limited to a single incident. “For example,” he wrote in an email he circulated to media in February, “the teacher sells soda and chips in his class and said out loud to the class that you can not put mountain dew and pepsi in the same fridge or they will turn gay. When he made this remark which he made several times he looked straight at me so I knew he was trying to affend [sic.] me and people in the class laughed like it was a joke.” (The “joke” is said to have some currency in NASCAR circles, where Pepsi products, including Mountain Dew, are car sponsors.)

The incident, which the teacher did not deny, as well as the students’ jokey response, is indicative of a school culture that has yet to take gay bashing as seriously as other forms of bigoted, demeaning or bullying behavior—from students as well as faculty or employees. Schools have a no-tolerance policy of students bullying students or using bigoted language.

After attempting unsuccessfully to change classes, Luke quit going to school two months ago. In the meantime, Luke’s mother hired Phil Chanfrau, an attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved, the school investigated, and earlier today, the ACLU and School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said a settlement was reached: Binkley will publicly apologize, though Luke is not returning to FPC this year. He’ll continue his work through Florida Virtual School, and will have the option of either returning to FPC next fall, transferring to Matanzas or continuing with virtual school.

School officials, according to the ACLU, acknowledged that Luke’s harassment had not been handled as swiftly as it should have been and several missteps had occurred: a conference between him and a guidance counselor was also misinterpreted as a confidential conversation, rather than a call to action, which caused a delay in the school’s response.

The district officially reprimanded the teacher who harassed Luke in class, in writing—but no suspension—and agreed to a series of actions to make amends for the impact the bullying had on Luke and prevent any further bullying and harassment of Flagler County School District students. The district agreed to recommend that the school board add protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the Student Code of Conduct and the school district’s bullying and harassment policy.

Binkley, a 21-year veteran, has apologized privately to Luke. But the student asked that the apology, like the offense, be made publicly. That will take place by way of a video public service announcement featuring Binkley, and that will be added to the school’s website. Luke was asked if his name needed be made part of the announcement. Luke said that was not necessary: only the acknowledgment, from the teacher, that an offense had taken place, and that it was directed at a student. “We have not drafted it yet but it will be stating that a student was hurt through a comment that was not intended to be harmful or hurtful to anyone,” Gavin said. Gavin acknowledged that not intending to harm is not in itself an excuse for being offensive.

Before the incident took place in Binkley’s class, the Gay Straight Alliance at FPC, a student club sponsored by Kevin McCarthy, one of the school’s five assistant principals, had been discussing making video public service announcements that dovetailed with the kind of message that will now be crafted as a result of the Binkley incident. The messages will be focused on the inadmissibility of demeaning language toward those who are not prototypically heterosexual. Binkley’s message will be “the kick-off,” in Gavin’s description, and is presumed to carry particular weight, coming from the teacher at the heart of one such controversy.

“We are pleased that the Flagler County School District is taking this issue seriously. While it should not take the ACLU intervening to get a school district’s attention, we hope that other districts will look at Flagler’s response as a good example of what schools should be doing to prevent and address bullying and harassment,” said Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Attorney (LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). “Bullying is a serious problem with tremendous ramifications for students. We should all be working to ensure that no student has to endure what Luke has suffered.”

“It’s the end of a long road,” Luke said Thursday evening. “I’m happy that something came out of it, hopefully will help other people if anybody else is going through similar issues. It’s something that should be heard, you know.”

For Palm Coast High School, the Binkley incident takes place on the heels of a different, and differently resolved, controversy over another slur: the use of nigger in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee play eventually staged by the FPC Drama Club late last month. Following the first show, several students in the play spoke of the offending word’s common usage in the halls, whether affectionately, jokingly, or ignorantly. Racial jokes by faculty or employees in students’ presence, however, let alone the use of the word, is virtually unheard of, and would likely be cause for grave consequences if documented.

Jokes about sexual orientation, like bullying over sexual orientation—which has led to a spate of killings in recent months (see the Ellen DeGeneres video below)—have yet to have the same level of inadmissibility as racial discrimination, even in law and regulations: it’s only late last year that the federal government abandoned its discriminatory don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule in the military, and many states, Florida among them, only recently enacted constitutional prohibitions on gay marriage. The state-sanctioned double standards have consequences: Luke’s case is not isolated.

“It’s a big problem, really throughout Florida and across the United States,” Day said Thursday evening. “Kids who are bullied and harassed are done so at the highest rate based on sexual orientation, gender identity or physical characteristics.” Media attention over the last eight months or so, resulting from a string of gay teen suicides, has gotten more people’s attention. But, Day said, “it’s tragic that something like a child’s death has to occur before people start paying attention.” Luke’s actions set out other options “so that kids don’t feel so desperate so they turn to something like ending their own life.” Missteps aside, Day said, the school district finally “stepped up in a very meaningful way, we certainly applaud them for the comprehensive action that they’re committed to taking.”

Ellen DeGeneres on Bigoted Bullying: Video from everywhere!

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32 Responses for “Bullying of Gay Student at FPC Leads to Teacher’s Public Apology and Policy Change”

  1. Jerry M says:

    41 to go! This is going to be easy!

  2. PC MAN says:

    Hard to believe that in the year 2011 this is still an issue. No teacher should still be employed who bullies, he will have to apologize but that will just make him more careful in the future, his resentment of homosexuals is just below the surface. I’m waiting for the first douche to come on here and say “love the sinner, hate the sin” note to the religious types, no matter what your books tell you, homosexuality is not a sin or lifestyle.

  3. Liana G says:

    Dear Luke;

    I want to express my admiration for what you did and applaud your courage and strength for speaking up. You have shown that you are an incredibly remarkable person and I know that these virtues will serve you well in life.

    We are only allowed one life here on earth – embrace it! and remember – “change doesn’t come from doing nothing”

    Stay Strong and

    best of ALL tomorrows to you . . . .

    Liana G.

  4. Nancy N. says:

    Did Gavin seriously say with a straight face that the teacher’s comments were not intended to be harmful or hurtful? C’mon, that doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

  5. K says:

    What an absolutely pathetic and belated response to unbelieveably shameful behavior.

    Luke, I’m sorry you faced and are still facing discrimination from your own school district. Be proud of yourself. You stood up for yourself against a bully and against an almost archaic administration. I hope we see further changes- and further children speaking out. Maybe then the district will take these things seriously.

  6. PC Gator says:

    I guess I will be the first douche. I have several gay friends however I do not agree with their lifestyle. That doesn’t mean I don’t care for them but contrary to what people say it is a sin. It is actually called an abomination in Leviticus 18:22. Whether you agree with it or not that is what is says. But it does not give us “religious types” the right to hate or harass homosexuals any more than we can do that to adulterers or drunks.

    So yes we should “hate the sin and love the sinner” but not enough people do. It also doesn’t mean to push our religion on them. True love of the person means accepting them as a human and allowing love to come through and if the opportunity arises then share your belief with them.

  7. Anon says:

    Binkley is a pretty poor example of an educator. Why is he still on the payroll?

    Gavin’s excuse is about as lame as the school board’s proposal that all teachers (but not them or the administrators) take a pay cut.

  8. PC MAN says:

    Lev. 11:9-12:And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you
    PC Gator I guess I’ll see you outside Red Lobster praying for all those sinners during “Shrimp Week”

  9. PC Gator says:

    The scripture you are referring to is in the laws handed down to the Israelites for their lifestyle and for their kosher diet and it may be a sin for Jews to eat those things. The scripture I posted has to do with eternal sin and comparing the two is apples and oranges. There are several instances in the new testament as well forbidding homosexuality so it transcends mosaic law.

    To answer your question if I see a bus from the local synagogue pull in to the Red Lobster during “Shrimp Week” then yes I would probably pray for them.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    This is shameful that a teacher can make gay comments intended to hurt a student in his class and is allowed to remain as a teacher in the school by the Superintendent, administrators and the school board.
    On behalf of our education system and of all Americans that likewise myself do not agree with this “wrong educator” attitude, I offer my apologies to Luke and his Mom and congratulate them both for having the courage to bring into the open this verbal and physical abuse, so we are aware of it and finally do soemthing stop bullies, wether students or teachers. Its time that we stop prejudice based in race, religion, lifestyle or economic status. Why certain individuals try to elevate themselves to God’s Greatness by judging their fellow man?
    Who are we to judge?

  11. palmcoaster says:

    I also hope that Mr. Chanfrau attorney’s fees were not paid by Luke’s mom on the settlement. Would be very unfair.

  12. Kevin says:

    PC Gator, that was a very good response to another thick-headed attempt to sound commanding by that turd PC Man. It’s funny that people who hate Christianity the most, evidently despising it’s very existence, often claim superior knowledge of it when in fact, are usually wrong as to their understanding of it and the bible, usually using passages from the bible incorrectly.

    Having said that I do feel bad for the young man as things are tough for many young people just trying to get through their days without being dragged through such an enormously mature, complicated, and sometimes painful issues such as homosexuality. I can’t even imagine how he makes it through his days considering the possible torture he probably endures from the classic oir stereotypical sources of his pain. (jocks, rotten teachers, student’s ignorant parents, etc…)

    Good luck to him, he’ll grow wise from this and hopefully reach heights others won’t because of the challenges he undertook early in life rather than kicking it in front of the tv playing games morning, noon, and night.

  13. Jim Guines says:

    It is interesting that the play To Kill A Mockingbird is mentioned in this article because if Harper Lee were to update the book today it would include sexual stereotyping which may have helped this teahcer understand that this type of bulling is a no no. Or, if the principal could have found that teachable moment, he may have helped the teacher not do what he did.

  14. T says:

    This is a sad sad cry for attention on his part.
    Binkley has always been like that, and thats why students in the school love him since he’s so easy to be around and talk to.
    So in my opinion, this kid is a sensitive crybaby who takes everything too seriously

  15. PC MAN says:

    PC Gator if it’s in the bible it’s true, god said it I believe it end of story. God hates fags and lobsters it’s true a minister on TV said so.
    Kevin I don’t hate Christianity I just find it irrelevant like all other religions.

  16. W.Ryan says:

    Wow!!! This unfortunately is believable! Seeing that we put a known Perp in office as our Governor this last election I see no reason to have faith in these Bible Totting individuals. An eye for eye? Surely Jesus preached compassion and preached a “new deal” in the New Testament. God will judge man! As for Luke…it’s sad that adults conduct themselves in this manner. My son experienced an abuse of power just like Luke. His situation was ADHD and a lack of tolerance with his lack of organizational skills and learning issues. School officials forced him out because of their intolerance and bias. He is also now home schooled. If the kids don’t conform they are bullied by the biggest bullies armed with their zero tolerance doctrine. We must protect our children from the 800 lb bully in the room. Especially the one’s quoting scripture. Stay cool Luke! There are millions of compassionate and understanding people out there in the real world were differences are embraced and valued.

  17. flagler1 says:

    Sounds like a great way to get out of going to school. Maybe Darwin was on to something.

  18. LivinginReality says:

    You people need to get your heads out of your buts. There should be no room in the schools for bullying of any kind, from student or teacher. Had this ignorant teacher made a racial comment he would have been suspended an/or fired. This is no different, a person has about as much choice in being gay as they do in being male or female. Get rid of this idiot and any administrator that did not discipline him. A student has the right to be safe from persecution at school. There should be a larger investigation into this school system.

  19. Dave says:

    well first off I am not a fan of the gay’s but thats their right so it is what it is, As for the reason why mr binkley most likely was not fired thats a no brainer being as his wife is a secrectary for the school boards superintendent .. it kind of makes sense now doesn’t it..

  20. Random says:

    To Luke, don’t worry, life will always have simple minded bigots suck as this man, but you will always have your friends and family to love and support through the good and the bad, gay pride for life brother.

  21. ForThePeople says:

    Dave, I bet you not a fan of the blacks, or the mexicans or anybody else who doesn’t fit in you narrow minded views.

    And T is he has always been that way how many racist or sexist comments has this moron made in the past as school administrator looked on and did nothing.

    This is one pathetic and ignorant school system.

  22. Beth Gardner says:

    I am a sinner. I am a Christian. And as a pastor, I serve a church full of sinners. I myself do not believe homosexuality is a sin. What IS a sin is abusive language and treating ANYONE as something other than a beloved child of God.

  23. Dave says:

    Hey ( ForThePeople says ) did you notice where I said that’s their right ? that does not mean I should agree with it and that’s just what I said, next time you decide to offer anyone your advice at least try to get it right, as for me not being a fan of the blacks, or the Mexicans or anybody else who doesn’t fit in my narrow minded views you are so wrong there so once again do me a favor and do not speak for this BLACK man ! Now back to the subject at hand I really hope the right people read what I wrote because I believe this will help his case and maybe the right justice will be served, Best of luck young man.

  24. marvin says:

    as rodney king once said cant we all just get along as i say we all bleed red and came from the same god so treat otheres as u would like to be treated

  25. marvin says:

    im sorry come from the same god we are all made in his image repent and be free

  26. rayann12 says:

    HE should not have to deal with this, but the way he has presented himself throughout all this is not the same way he dresses or acts at school. If you want to be who you are then be that way all the time, don’t change because the camera is on you…. If you go out of the ordinary in high school you have to accept that people will make comments, its life. I don’t agree with him getting mad and acting different in public and making FPC look bad… If he wants to act like that do it alllll the time

  27. LivinginReality says:

    Wow rayann, Nobosy is making FPC look bad they are doing it all by themselves, first with To Kill a Mockingbird and now with this teacher. No matter how this boy, or any student dressed or acted gives another student or teacher the right ridicule a student. Teachers are supposed to set an example for students and protect other students from the bullies not become bullies themselves.

  28. Liana G says:


    Very, very, well said – Thank you.


    Thank you for pointing that out. I wondered about that too. Thank you.

  29. bunnelhunter says:


  30. Amanda says:

    Mr.Binkley is an amazing educator and he has a joking personality. It allows students to feel COMFORTABLE around him, not the other way around. If the kid felt offended, maybe he should have mentioned something to Mr.Binkley personally. If he had known the kid was taking offense then he would have stopped. Instead the kid did something that would get him tons of attention. If anybody should be ashamed of themselves it should be the student. He needs to learn that people are going to judge you and you need to learn to live with it. I’m sure he has judged people himself.

  31. VMF says:

    Its not about getting attention, its about addressing an occurring issue. Mr. Binkley’s may come off as laid back, but its no excuse to make a gay joke period. He suppose to be a teacher, Teachers are suppose to be role models to their students and what do you think he is teaching you. Im sure things were addressed when it was the norm to say the N word or other racist jokes back in the day. I think he felt like another teacher I know when I was in FPC whenever a student felt offended the teacher addressed it to the whole class.

  32. celebratelife says:

    Okay, I need to set something straight. I was in that wood shop class with Luke when we were freshman. I was shocked to see he got the ACLU involved for something like this. What the article didn’t tell you was that Luke was not even in the class during the “slur” and keep in mind that the teacher was around 80 years old; “gay” to him doesn’t mean the same thing it meant 20 years ago. He was a wonderful teacher and really knew what he was doing. His class gave students the opportunity to learn a trade they could use in life and how to create amazing things. I loved wood shop for that very reason.
    The entire situation has nothing to do with “human rights activism”, but has everything to do with the fact that he was attention seeking. This article painted a picture of a student who was bullied for being gay, that was partially true, but not the entire reason. He was a very hateful person. He would trash talk anyone, was very disrespectful, he cursed through out the hall ways and was just a horrible person to be around.
    I can honestly say (because I used to be his friend before this incident occurred) that he will do anything for attention; absolutely anything. Even if that means making a big deal out of something that was nothing. Congratulations; you got your 15-minutes of fame…

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