ACLU Hails Settlement in White County, Georgia Gay-Straight Alliance Case

January 10, 2007
FOR IMMEIDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU, Students and Parents See Victory for All Concerned

ATLANTA, GA  –  The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it has reached a settlement agreement with officials in White County, Georgia, whom they sued for refusing to allow a gay-straight alliance club (GSA) to meet on campus.  The ACLU represents students in the club, who have been trying to meet at White County High School since January of 2005.

“I’m just so happy this is all over and that our school is doing the right thing,” said Charlene Hammersen, one of the founders of Peers Rising In Diverse Education (PRIDE).  “It’s taken almost two years to get here, but we’re as determined as we’ve always been to promote diversity and fight harassment against gay students at our school. This is really great for every student that goes to White County High. ”

The terms of the settlement agreement include policies for 9th through 12th grades that make it clear that harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students is not permitted on campus.  The school has also agreed to provide their faculty with annual training sessions on how to deal with and prevent anti-gay harassment.

“This is a tremendous victory for everyone involved in the case, and for all students at White County High School,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.  “We’re pleased that we helped to ensure that all students can participate in extracurricular clubs, including the PRIDE club, and that the school has agreed to changes that we believe will make its hallways safer for all of its students.”

The case arose after White County High School announced the elimination of all noncurricular clubs shortly after the formation of the GSA.  The ACLU brought a lawsuit against the school district in February 2006, claiming that the school officials violated the students’ rights under the federal Equal Access Act, which requires schools to provide equal treatment to all noncurricular clubs, along with other civil rights violations.  In July of 2006, a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against the school, requiring it to allow the GSA and other school clubs to meet.

“Throughout the course of this lawsuit I’ve only wanted what every parent wants – for my children to be able to go to school in an environment that’s safe,” said Savannah Pacer, whose daughter Kerry, who has since graduated from high school, was the founding president of PRIDE; her other daughter Lindsay is also a member of the club.  “I’m so proud of my daughters for their role in changing hearts and minds, and for helping bring about this settlement, which is a good thing for the whole school community.  This is a happy day for all of us.”

Esseks added, “The Equal Access Act guarantees the rights of students to form all kinds of clubs – from GSAs to religious clubs – and students at White County High School now know they can exercise that right.” 

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 and Osseo, Minnesota.

The PRIDE members are represented by Ken Choe of the ACLU’s national LGBT Project, Gerry Weber and Beth Littrell of the ACLU of Georgia, and Frank White and Scott Titshaw of Arnall Golden Gregory, LLP in Atlanta.  More information on the case can be found online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/25917res20060227.html.

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