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In 1997, an 18-year-old high school football player in Minersville, Pa., and a 17-year-old friend were stopped by police after leaving a party. Police charged the boys with underage drinking and, after finding the younger one with two condoms, took them to the station, where they were lectured on the Bible and homosexuality. The arresting officer, F. Scott Willinsky, allegedly asked if they were “queer” and threatened to tell their families they were gay. Marcus Wayman, the football player, told his friend he was going to kill himself. A few hours later, he did just that. On Monday, a lawsuit filed by Wayman’s mother over her son’s death went to trial in federal court in Allentown, Pa. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, charges that the town and three of its police officers violated Wayman’s right to privacy. “This is the first case that we know of that, after a tragic result like this, a family comes back and tries to hold a public entity accountable for trying to out them,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Rights project of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Wayman’s mother. In an important pretrial decision, a federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled last year that a person’s constitutional right to privacy includes protection of his or her sexual orientation. “It is difficult to imagine a more private matter than one’s sexuality and a less likely probability that the government would have a legitimate interest in (its) disclosure,” the court wrote in its 2-1 ruling. The court also said that threatening to disclose the information was tantamount to doing so, “because the security of one’s privacy has been compromised by the threat.” Police approached Wayman’s car at about midnight, as the teens sat in a lot next to a beer distributorship. Willinsky, the son of then-Police Chief Joseph Willinsky, and Officer Thomas Hoban took them to the station on underage drinking charges. The 17-year-old had been drinking at the party. Scott Willinsky later testified that both boys conceded, under questioning, that they had stopped to have sex. The 17-year-old disputes making the statement. Willinsky told Wayman that if he didn’t tell his grandfather he was gay, Willinsky would do so, according to the lawsuit. Later that morning, police dropped Wayman off at the home he shared with his grandfather. “At his home, Marcus Wayman, depressed and disconsolate over the threats and accusations, and feeling that the defendant police officers would carry through on their threats and thereby stigmatize him, ruin his reputation, and anger the main authority figure in his family, secured a firearm in the house and, sometime before 6 a.m., committed suicide,” the lawsuit states. The three officers named in the lawsuit, Joseph Willinsky, Scott Willinsky and Thomas Hoban, do not have listed numbers and could not be reached for comment before the start of the trial. Their lawyer, Robert Hanna Jr., did not immediately return a call Monday. According to Ferrero, many school officials, social workers and others feel they have a duty to share the information with parents when they learn that a teen-ager may be gay. Willinsky made a similar argument in court. “Willinsky offers that, as a small town police officer, his role has parental overtones, thus, reducing the citizen’s expectation of privacy. … We mention this only to note our disagreement with the concept that the breadth of one’s constitutional rights can somehow be diminished by demographics,” Circuit Judge Carol Los Mansmann wrote in the opinion. Minersville, population 4,900, is in a rural area about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. For a gay teen, the disclosure of his or her sexual orientation can be traumatic — and even dangerous, Ferrero said. “Coming out is one of the single most significant moments of their lives, especially when they’re still in high school and they are forcibly outed,” Ferrero said. “It can be extraordinarily traumatic, especially if maybe the family is not supportive.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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