Greg Barrett walked up to the podium, striding past the empty rows of chairs behind him.
It was a Monday night, and attendance at the Katy Independent School District school board meeting was sparse.
Not that it mattered. As Barrett began speaking, his gaze was focused on the district officials seated in front of him — in particular, on Lance Hindt, the superintendent of the Houston-area district.
He and Hindt had gone to school together in Katy, Texas, more than three decades ago, Barrett explained. He then launched into an account of how he had been targeted as a child because of his legal name: Greg Gay.
“I was bullied. Unbelievably bullied,” Barrett said. “I started out and I had teachers that bullied me, I had kids that bullied me, even the coaches. I had nobody to turn to.”
One day at lunch, Barrett said some classmates assaulted him and shoved his head in a urinal. He remembers lying on the ground in fetal position — with a busted lip, and covered in urine — as the kids kicked him, he said.
When it was over, Barrett said, he rinsed his face off and went “straight to the principal’s office.” The principal reassured him the kids wouldn’t always be like that, and sent him home, Barrett said.
The experience left him despondent and contemplating suicide, he recalled.
“Well, I went home and I got the .45 out of my father’s drawer and put it in my mouth,” Barrett said. “Because at this point I had nobody — nobody in the school system — to help me. Is that the way this is going to be?”
He then gestured at the superintendent: “Lance, you were the one that shoved my head the in the urinal.”
Barrett threw his hands in the air and walked away from the microphone, leaving the room in stunned silence. From the elevated school board seats came some murmuring. A small laugh could be heard.
“Want to debate?” Barrett called from the corner of the room. “Because I got witnesses that were there when it happened.”
If Hindt responded that night, it was not apparent in a public video recording of the meeting. The superintendent has since said he does not recall Barrett from his childhood and denied the accusations as “simply not true.”
“It was difficult for me to listen to a gentleman Monday night recount a bullying incident he said occurred more than 35 years ago,” Hindt said in a statement. “As superintendent in three school districts in Texas, I have always tried to create an environment where every student is safe — physically and emotionally. But when an individual impugns my character and reputation as the instigator of those actions, I am disappointed because it simply is not true.”
During his public comments, Barrett said he had started in the district in 1975, with Hindt, then graduated in 1983. Hindt confirmed in his statement that they had gone to the same middle school but not to the same high school.
“And my junior high principal — Mr. McMeans — would never have let me (or anyone else) get away with the actions he described,” Hindt said. “I do not suggest that Mr. Barrett was not bullied, only that I was not part of it. Bullying is wrong. Period. It was then and it is today.”
Barrett did not immediately respond to interview requests Tuesday. A man who answered a phone number listed for him identified himself as Barrett’s father, and said he could confirm that his son had been severely bullied at school growing up.
“It was not pretty,” the man said. “Nevertheless, that was 35 years ago. He has moved on since then. He had an opportunity to say something to this man and he has.”
Barrett told the Houston Chronicle that he now uses his mother’s maiden name, and that he simply wants Hindt to apologize for what had happened, not to lose his job.
“People change. They do stupid stuff when they’re young,” he told the newspaper. “I just want him to acknowledge it, say he’s sorry and make some changes so this doesn’t continue to happen.”
Still, Barrett wasn’t encouraged by Hindt’s response at the meeting, according to the Chronicle.
“That really ticked me off,” he told the newspaper. “When he laughed, I thought, ‘Maybe this man hasn’t changed.’ “
Hindt indicated in his statement that bullying is not taken lightly in Katy Independent School District, which enrolls more than 75,000 students and is among the fastest growing school districts in Texas.
“At Katy ISD, we are always looking for ways to make our campuses and our students safe,” Hindt said. “I am proud to lead a district that is not afraid to confront bullying behavior — whether in person or online. We are always challenging our teachers and principals to identify harmful behavior and to intervene as necessary.”