Trial Enters Second Day in ACLU Lawsuit Against Police Who Threatened To Out Teen, Causing His Suicide

November 6, 2001 12:00 am

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ALLENTOWN, PA — A jury will hear from more witnesses today as the federal court trial continues in the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against small-town Pennsylvania police officers who threatened to tell a teenager’s family that he was gay, causing him to commit suicide.

The teen’s mother, Madonna Sterling, testified yesterday about her relationship with her teenage son, Marcus Wayman, before he committed suicide in 1997. Sterling is suing the police officers and the town of Minersville for unspecified damages in the misconduct and wrongful death case.

“This tragic case is an extreme example of something that happens far too often all over America,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. “With this case, we’ve already established a milestone victory for youth — that their sexual orientation is constitutionally protected from this kind of forced outing — and now we’ll get a victory for this family.”

One year ago this week, a federal appeals court rejected arguments from the town and the officers who said lesbians and gay men do not have a constitutional right to decide when and how to reveal their sexual orientation. The groundbreaking 2-1 decision from the appeals court also rejected officers’ claims that they act in a parental role in a small town, lessening citizen’s expectation of privacy. That ruling allowed a trial to proceed in the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf Sterling.

Sterling’s son, high school football player Marcus Wayman, was in a car with a 17-year-old male when police questioned the two and found condoms during a search. They arrested them for under-age drinking (though Wayman was the sober designated driver), and lectured them about the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. Officers also threatened to tell Wayman’s grandfather that he was gay. Wayman went home and committed suicide.

“”As a mother, when I read this case it struck terror in my heart,”” said Melina Waldo, a Pennsylvania-area leader in Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Waldo, whose adult son is gay, is a social worker whose job often puts her in a position to know young people’s sexual orientation.

“”Social workers, police, teachers and guidance counselors are trusted to serve and protect the public – and that includes our lesbian and gay kids. Madonna Sterling’s courage has already brought a powerful legal precedent ensuring that,”” Waldo said. “”But this case isn’t just about one family in Minersville. This could have happened to any of our children.””

The trial is expected to conclude tomorrow. David Rudovsky of Philadelphia is the cooperating attorney working with the ACLU on the case.

For information on an earlier ruling in the case, go to /node/9533.

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