Blog of Rights

Gay-Straight Alliance OK'd by Federal Judge

By Brandon Hensler, ACLU of Florida at 12:26pm

A month ago, almost to the day, the ACLU of Florida filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of students at Yulee High School in northeast Florida, demanding that the school allow the students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and meet on campus — just as other clubs, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, do. Yesterday, less than a week after oral arguments were heard by U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr. in Jacksonville, Florida, he issued a preliminary injunction requiring the school to follow the law and give the students equal access.

ACLU of Florida client Hannah Page

The GSA's mission: help curb bullying and harassment against LGBT students and to discuss harassment and discrimination. Bullying of LGBT students in Nassau County Schools is a serious problem according to ACLU plaintiffs Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, who are gay. They reported that students have threatened to beat them up based on their sexual orientation, and both are routinely called derogatory names at the school.

Their sole goal in creating the Yulee H.S. GSA is to open a dialogue with students and administrators to openly discuss tolerance and advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ("LGBT") students. It became just how clear just such a club is needed when they were told "no" by school officials.

Hannah said that they "just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about the harassment and discrimination against gay kids in an open environment."

Yulee High School officials told the students that their club was not welcome unless they changed the name and removed the word "gay." This wasn't the first time students had been denied access though. School administrators denied a similar club at Yulee Middle School in the 2007-2008 school year.

But this time the students weren't going to back down — they called the ACLU.

As part of his ruling, the judge cited an earlier ACLU of Florida case, Gonzalez v. Sch. Bd. Of Okeechobee Co., where the court rejected the school board's argument that such a club would interfere with "discipline in the operation of the school," noting that the "Defendant's position is not well founded and Plaintiffs have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

Beyond allowing the club to meet on campus, the school cannot force the club to change its name, as the principal had previously demanded in reciprocation for club recognition. The school is also prohibited from interfering with the club's goals of advocating "for tolerance, respect and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people," and forbids any retaliation by the school.

All in all — a great day for LGBT students' rights!

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