A gay teacher is suing over threats and intimidation he says he received from police in Ceres, California after telling school administrators about homophobia among students.
A lawsuit recently filed by former Central Valley High School teacher David Cole alleges that Lorenzo Beltran, the school resource officer at Cole’s former workplace, was “flashing” and making “repeated gestures” towards his gun during a tense visit outside his home on February 15, 2019. Days earlier, Cole had told school officials about witnessing instances of homophobia among students at the school. Beltran, accompanied by an unnamed officer that the lawsuit refers to as “his goon,” allegedly “screamed” that Cole was “not fit to be a teacher” while pressuring him to quit.
Beltran then told Cole that he would have to accompany the officers to the school—which was closed at the time—if he did not quit his job, according to the suit. Cole says that Beltran and the other officer refused to leave his property despite repeated requests. The alleged confrontation only ended when Cole’s partner, listening from the home, opened the door and allowed Cole to flee inside. Cole says that he feared for his life due to intimidation and threats that the lawsuit says were “steeped in homophobia.”
“It scares me to just look out my front door and remember it,” Cole told The Modesto Bee last week, in an article published on Thursday. “There are hedges in our front yard and I look around every hedge now when I come home.”
Coles told the paper that he lost 75 pounds and has been plagued by depression and several other ailments since the encounter. In addition to himself, he said he feared for the safety of his partner. The couple now hesitate to reveal their sexual orientation in the area, Cole said—feeling less comfortable than they did in the 1990s, when the pair founded a pioneering LGBTQ social club at a local community college.
“Now we’re scared to even be who we are,” he told the paper. “That complete turnaround in my life to go from starting Rainbow Generation, the first queer club in the Central Valley at a school, to being terrified and not wanting the police to know it’s me or know that I’m gay. That’s where I’m at: just terrified of being outside in Ceres and at home.”
The City of Ceres, the Ceres Police Department and Beltran are named as defendants in the suit. Cole did not sue the school district due an agreement that was part of a June 2020 legal settlement reached after he was fired from the school one year earlier. The district disputes the lawsuit’s allegation that the school failed to address “chronic problems of homophobia and bullying.”
“We have filed an answer to the complaint that categorically denies all claims of wrongdoing,” Van Longyear, the attorney representing the city and Beltran, told The Bee. “We believe that the true motive behind this scathingly defamatory complaint will be revealed during the formal Discovery phase of the case.”
Newsweek reached out to the Ceres Police Department for comment.
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