ACLU and GSA Network Clear the Way for Gay-Straight Alliance Club in Madera, California

March 14, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

MADERA, CA –  After students attempted for almost two years to gain recognition for a gay-straight alliance club (GSA) at Madera High School, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and GSA Network announced today that they have secured an agreement with the school board to allow the club to exist.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and GSA Network negotiated on behalf of about 10 students who had been trying to gain recognition since the spring of 2005 for the club, which hopes to provide a safe haven for students to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

“We’re all just so happy and excited that our school is finally treating us like any other club so we can do everything we can to make Madera High School safe for everyone,” said Thalia Arenas, a senior who has been involved in the Fresno-area school’s GSA since its inception and currently serves as president.  “We knew that what the school was telling us about requirements for clubs couldn’t possibly be legal, and we’re glad they finally understand that and won’t put up any more roadblocks.”  

Arenas and several other students first approached school officials about forming the club in the spring of 2005.  They were told that all clubs must be approved by the board of the Madera Unified School District and that such approval might take six months.  The GSA approached school officials again a year later and were finally allowed to meet on campus, but were told the GSA would not be a “school-sponsored” club and therefore they wouldn’t be allowed to make announcements, post bulletins, raise funds on campus, or do other things that so-called “school-sponsored” clubs were allowed to do. Several other clubs at Madera High School were granted the benefits that the GSA club wasn’t -- including Bike Club, Bowling Club, Hip-Hop Club, Ping Pong Club, and Snowboarding Club.

In January of this year, the ACLU sent a letter to Madera school officials explaining that the federal Equal Access Act requires public schools to treat all non-curricular student clubs equally and prohibits favoring some clubs over others by classifying them as either “school-sponsored” or “non-school-sponsored.”

“This is a tremendous victory for all students at Madera High School,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of GSA Network.  “We hope to help all schools in California understand that they’re required to treat all clubs equally, and we hope schools come to appreciate the role GSAs play in giving students a safe space to support each other and reduce harassment at their schools.”

“Schools have to understand that the Equal Access Act guarantees the rights of students to form all kinds of clubs – from GSAs to religious clubs – and that schools can’t pick and choose what sort of activities and privileges to dole out to the clubs they like,” said Natalie Nardecchia, Pride Law Fund Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Southern California.  “It shouldn’t have taken Madera school officials two years to do the right thing for these students, but we’re happy for the students that it’s finally happening.”

Federal courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of GSAs where schools tried to block their formation, upholding students’ right to form the groups in Salt Lake City, Utah; Orange County, California; Franklin Township, Indiana; Boyd County, Kentucky; Osseo, Minnesota; and, most recently, White County, Georgia.

GSA Network

Founded in 1998, Gay-Straight Alliance Network is a youth-driven organization that empowers youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools through gay-straight alliance clubs.  There are currently more than 600 GSA clubs in California.  For more information, visit http://gsanetwork.org.

The American Civil Liberties Union

The American Civil Liberties Union works daily in courts, legislature and communities to protect the individual liberties, rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution and the laws of the United States.  Founded in 1920, the ACLU is a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization with more than 550,000 members and offices in all 50 states and employs more than 150 permanent staff attorneys and 2,000 cooperating attorneys, litigating more than 6,000 cases annually.  For more information, visit www.aclu.org or www.aclu-sc.org.

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