FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ORANGE, CA - The trial of an Orange County teenager who filed a lawsuit last year against the Garden Grove Unified School District in an effort to stop discrimination and harassment of gay and lesbian students on campus concluded Tuesday.
Charlene Nguon, 18, a honor society candidate and straight-A student, was singled out because of her sexual orientation and unfairly disciplined by school officials, who "outed" her to her mother. Nguon and her mother filed the lawsuit along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Gay Straight Alliance Network.
"Charlene is the type of child every parent should be proud of," said Christine P. Sun, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "We've tried to work out this situation with the school district so it's very unfortunate that it has come to this point. Instead of derailing Charlene's academic achievements, school administrators should have done their job to ensure every student thrives regardless of their sexual orientation."
Nguon's was on track to attend a competitive four-year college after graduation this June until her academic plans were derailed as a result of discrimination by school officials, according to the complaint. Santiago High School administrators targeted and punished Nguon and her girlfriend for displaying affection on campus, even though similar displays by heterosexual students were common and generally went unpunished. On one occasion, Nguon was suspended for a week for hugging her girlfriend on campus. As a result of the disciplinary measures, her candidacy for the National Honor Society was rescinded. To keep the two girls apart, officials forced Nguon to transfer schools midway through the second semester of her junior year. After the ACLU intervened on her behalf, Nguon was allowed to return to Santiago, but the school made no effort to improve the climate on campus.
"Charlene was punished for who she is and that has severe personal ramifications and has a significant long-term impact on her life," said Dan Stormer of the law firm Hadsell and Stormer, counsel in the case.
Sun added, "Not only did the school punish Charlene because she was affectionate with her girlfriend, they referred her to counseling for 'persistent public display of relationship with another girl' as if her sexual orientation was an affliction that could be cured."
Dozens of witnesses testified throughout the course of the eight-day trial, including former Santiago principal Ben Wolf, and Nguon's family, friends and classmates. Eileen Malm, one of Nguon's sisters, testified that the school transfer and the mistreatment created hardship for the whole family.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Nguon said, "I just don't understand why my girlfriend and I were not allowed to be affectionate but other couples are. Most other students at Santiago are very accepting and tolerant of gay students, but the administration is a different story. We were singled out and disciplined just because we are two girls."
U.S. District Judge James V. Selna is expected to issue a decision in the next several weeks. The lawsuit seeks to create a district wide policy and guidelines to ensure that gay and lesbian students are treated equally.
In addition to Sun and Stormer, attorneys for Nguon are Jordan Kushner and Shawn McDonald of the law firm Latham and Watkins.
More information on the case is online at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/22177res20051205.html