Federal Judge Rules That High Schools Cannot Out Lesbian and Gay Students

December 1, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

LOS ANGELES  –  A federal judge has ruled that an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed on behalf of Charlene Nguon, an Orange County high school senior, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network can proceed, rejecting the school’s motion that it was within its rights to reveal the student’s sexual orientation without her permission.

“I am very glad that the judge agreed Charlene can continue to stand up for her rights,” said Nguon’s mother, Crystal Chhun.  “I love and fully support Charlene, but that’s not the case for every gay student out there.  The person to decide when and how to talk with our family about her sexual orientation should have been my daughter, not the principal.”

In its motion to dismiss the case, the school claimed that Nguon did not have a legal interest in keeping her sexual orientation private because she was affectionate with her girlfriend at school.  The court disagreed, ruling that Nguon can proceed with her legal claim that the principal violated her constitutional privacy rights.

“We are pleased that the court recognized that the school does not have the automatic right to disclose a student’s sexual orientation just because that student is out of the closet to his or her friends at school,” said Christine P. Sun, a staff attorney for the ACLU.  “Coming out is a very serious decision that should not be taken away from anyone, especially from students who may be put in peril if they live in an unsupportive home.”

The ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, the ACLU of Southern California, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins, LLP, brought a lawsuit on behalf of Nguon and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network in September after a series of events that included revealing Nguon’s sexual orientation to her family without the student’s permission in December of 2004.

Throughout the 2004-2005 school year Santiago High School Principal Ben Wolf had repeatedly singled Nguon out for discipline – including a one-week suspension – for displaying affection with her girlfriend.  Heterosexual students are routinely allowed to hold hands, hug, and kiss on campus.  Wolf ultimately told Nguon that either she or her girlfriend had to leave the high school, which Nguon reluctantly did halfway during the spring semester of her junior year.

Nguon, 17, was a straight-A student ranked in the top five percent of her class who had no prior record of discipline. Her grades slipped when she switched to another high school as she struggled to catch up with that school’s curriculum and her commute grew from a four-block walk to a four-and-a-half mile bike ride. After the ACLU sent a letter to the school in late July, Nguon was allowed to return to Santiago, but to date the school has not agreed to clear Nguon’s disciplinary record. She is enrolled in a number of advanced placement and honors classes and had been a candidate for the National Honor Society until the offer was rescinded because of the school’s unfair discipline.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, seeks to clear Nguon of any discipline on her record. The lawsuit also seeks to create a district-wide policy and guidelines to ensure that gay and lesbian students are treated equally.

The judge’s decision regarding the school’s motion to dismiss can be viewed online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/22040lgl20051201.html

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