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Despite Recent Progress, Anti-Gay Discrimination Rages on in Florida Public Schools

Brandon Hensler,
ACLU of Florida
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February 12, 2009

Last fall Yulee High School administrators denied recognition to a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and denied them use of school facilities, although other student clubs were given access. This followed a similar discriminatory act when Yulee Middle School denied the same student access to school facilities in the 2007-08 school year for a GSA. So, this week, the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project sued the School District of Nassau County (near Jacksonville) alleging that the school violated the students’ First Amendment and federal Equal Access Act rights.

Bullying and anti-gay harassment are a severe problem in Nassau County schools, according to students there. They are regularly harassed by fellow students, called names and physically threatened. It’s a logical conclusion to make that if the school administrators were more tolerant and led by example that the students would follow that behavior and not discriminate against fellow classmates. But that’s not the message the superintendent wanted to send when he denied the club access.

“We just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about harassment and discrimination against gay kids in an open environment. The school is discriminating against us and that’s exactly the kind of thing we want to talk about and prevent,” said Hannah Page, ACLU plaintiff and student at Yulee High School.

GSAs are student organizations made up of straight and gay students who wish to advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) students. Who could be against that?

There are over 4,000 GSAs in the U.S., according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), including several in the greater Jacksonville area.

This is all on the heels of a lawsuit won last year through a team effort by the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project and the national ACLU LGBT Project. We triumphed in a lawsuit against Okeechobee High School, where a GSA was prohibited from being recognized like other extra-curricular clubs. The federal judge ruled that the public school must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000.00 in attorneys’ fees for refusing to follow the law in that case.

Many news outlets have already covered the filing of the Nassau County lawsuit, including the Associated Press, Florida Times-Union, WJXT-TV, and the Orlando Sentinel. We’ll keep you updated as the case progresses.

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