April 24, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Corona Del Mar High School officials' initial decision to cancel the musical production of "Rent: School Edition," and their subsequent failure to address a growing atmosphere of intolerance at the school, has created a breeding ground for homophobic attitudes and has paved the way for a planned protest by a virulently anti-gay group tomorrow, ACLU/SC Staff Attorney Lori Rifkin said today.

"Despite numerous opportunities to address an atmosphere openly hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students, the district has done nothing that we are aware of to curb intolerance," Rifkin said. "There has not been a single word condemning bullying or homophobic behavior. No school assembly has been held to address harassment. School officials released a public statement about the play recently that offers nominal support for the drama department and student cast members, but distances district and school administrators from the production and emphasizes that it is "not a school sanctioned event" and that it contains "adult content."

"This tepid and inaccurate statement, on the eve of a protest by Fred Phelps' vitriolic hate group that could eclipse the musical production and leave cast members feeling vulnerable and scared on stage, is simply inadequate and unacceptable," Rifkin continued. Phelps' extremist Westboro Baptist Church prominently features the language "God Hates Fags" on its Web site.

Rifkin added that the protest – along with school officials' nonaction in the face of controversy -- will likely mar memories of the event in many students' minds for years to come.

"By permitting a homophobic atmosphere to flourish, the principal of Corona del Mar High School and district personnel have threatened to make students' lasting memory of this school play one of hatred, rather than of joy and excitement that comes from months of hard work and relationships built preparing for production," Rifkin pointed out.

"High school plays are often fondly remembered because they embody creativity, cooperation and values fostered by school administrators -- not, as here, bigotry and intolerance. But school personnel and district officials could prevent this poisonous atmosphere from spreading further," she said. "Now is the perfect time to stand up for students, condemn intolerance and address the disturbing atmosphere of homophobia that has flourished at Corona Del Mar High School."

The ACLU/SC sued Newport-Mesa Unified School District and officials of Corona del Mar High School on March 18 for allowing a hostile environment to develop toward gay and female students that led to death threats against one student. In the lawsuit, the ACLU/SC specifically cites the high school‟s initial cancellation of "Rent: School Edition," a version of the gay-themed musical that ran on Broadway for more than a decade.

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