Sandy Bandy, 52, was left fighting for her job as a school counselor in Douglas County after she came out as a lesbian. Now a school psychologist in the Bay Area, Bandy tells her story for Reno’s Gay Pride Festival on Aug. 18 at noon at the Sands Regency. For more information, visit www.renogaypride.com.
What story will you be sharing at the Gay Pride festival?
The story of the first discrimination charge in Nevada based on sexual orientation. It happened with the Douglas County School district back in 1999 once they found out I was a lesbian. … They told me to move to San Francisco. They told me they could not have a lesbian as a high school counselor, and they were concerned about what the parents were going to say. I had worked there for eight years with outstanding reviews.
They didn’t mince words, did they?
They did not. And it got worse after that. They also said they were going to take the students away and make me do administrative duties because they didn’t want me working with students. It was pretty dramatic. I went home through a trail of tears. I couldn’t sleep that night. I wrote a letter to the superintendent, which was ignored for four months by the district office.
What happened then?
It was harassment during that four-month period. One of the principals threw a letter on my desk and said, “Get this done by today,” or something like that. A student was in my office, and said, “Why does so-and-so hate you so much?” It was then that I filed because I felt the students were being impacted.
Once I filed, the gay and lesbian community began to discourage me from pursuing the charge out of fear. They felt we’d end up like Matthew Shepard. They tried to convince me to stop. They were afraid they’d be fired also. Fear permeated the entire atmosphere after I filed, but I had to protect my job.
The district came alive once they got the papers. When I went to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, the director informed me that he didn’t blame the district for not wanting a lesbian in the counseling office. …
It went ahead, and I tried to get attorneys in Nevada to take the case, but they couldn’t find a jury in the state of Nevada that would back me up, so I was left on my own. I negotiated with the district for adopting the policy of sexual orientation in the nondiscriminatory items. … It took about three to four months of negotiation with the district to get them to take it to the board and include sexual orientation as a nondiscriminatory item. I wouldn’t settle for less.
Is Nevada a tough place to be a lesbian?
It was. I miss being there. It was my home. I get teary-eyed thinking about it. I’d lived in the area for about 20 years. I went to the University of Nevada, Reno for two graduate degrees. I’m hoping to retire back there.
What’s the message you hope to bring for the Gay Pride event?
The thing I have to bring is we have nothing to fear but fear itself, and when we allow our fears to permeate our lives, we become paralyzed and are unable to truly be who we are—gay and lesbian individuals.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If I had to do it over, I would do the same thing because growing up gay and not being free to be who you are is very difficult.