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ACLU History: Youth and Schools

Document Date: September 1, 2010

Young LBGT people are among the most vulnerable in our society. All too often, students suffer discriminatory treatment at the very hands of those tasked with providing them with an education and ensuring their safety within schools. The ACLU’s Youth & Schools program strives to make public schools safe and bias-free for LGBT kids and teachers. The project helps students protect their right to free expression, to establish gay-straight alliance clubs, and to be taught in an environment respectful of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a landmark case in California, the ACLU sued a school district on behalf of six students who endured horrifying homophobic harassment from their classmates while staff, teachers and administrators did nothing — even when the students asked them for help. One student was told by a classmate ‘I want to beat you up after class but I need a baseball bat to hit you because I don’t want to get AIDS.’ The teacher, who heard the threat, did nothing. The 2003 settlement in Flores v. Morgan Hill Unified School District required school officials to take effective, preventive measures when they learn that LGBT students are being harassed.

More recently, in a case that garnered national attention, the ACLU came to the aid of Constance McMillen, a lesbian student in Mississippi whose school decided to cancel its prom rather than allow her to attend with her girlfriend. In July 2010, after a judge ruled that the school district had violated McMillen’s free speech rights, school officials agreed to adopt a comprehensive nondiscrimination and nonharassment policy that covers sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, which is the first such policy in any public school in Mississippi. McMillen later traveled to Washington to meet with President Obama and press for passage of the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect students based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and would provide victims of such discrimination and harassment with effective legal remedies.

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