ACLU Files Lawsuits Against Schools in KY and TX for Discrimination Against Gay-Straight Alliances

January 22, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK– The American Civil Liberties Union today filed separate federal lawsuits against school officials in Kentucky and Texas challenging efforts to block students who sought to form Gay-Straight Alliances in their high schools.

“With these lawsuits we hope to put school officials on notice that we will no longer tolerate their dirty tactics and bureaucratic excuses to keep students from forming Gay-Straight Alliances,” said James Esseks, Litigation Director for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “As theses two cases so clearly show, there is a tremendous need for students to have a club where they can discuss how to deal with the anti-gay harassment they face.”

The ACLU charges that both schools violated students’ rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment. The lawsuits seek to enjoin the schools from further discriminating against the students by permitting the GSAs, as they are called, to meet. Hearings on the motions in both cases are expected to take place within a few weeks.

The Kentucky case involves Boyd County High School in Ashland, a rural coal mining community in the Northeastern part of the state.

Last December, the Boyd County Board of Education took the extraordinary step of suspending all clubs in all schools K-12 in an effort to prevent a group of approximately 30 students from forming a GSA in Boyd County High School. The students initially petitioned the school to form the GSA in March 2002, after two former students were kicked out of their homes for being gay. The school’s Site Based Decision Making Council reluctantly approved the GSA this past October after the ACLU sent a letter explaining the students’ rights under the federal Equal Access Act. Bowing to opposition from local ministers, the Board of Education then reversed the council’s decision and suspended all clubs.

The lawsuit filed in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky on behalf of potential GSA members charges that school officials have permitted many clubs, including the Beta Club, drama club, student council, cheerleading and sports teams, to continue to meet since the school board’s decision to suspend all clubs. Permitting some clubs to meet while not allowing the GSA is a clear violation of the Equal Access Act. In addition to claims under federal law, the lawsuit charges that the Board of Education violated the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

“School officials in Boyd County deserve an F for the dishonest and bigoted tactics they’ve taken to keep a group of students from talking about tolerance and acceptance,” said Jeff Vessels, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky. “It’s shameful that the students have had to be the responsible ones and teach the educators about freedom and equality.”

The Texas case involves Klein High School in the town of Klein, an affluent suburb of Houston. After students at the high school submitted their application to form a GSA this past September, school officials immediately changed the requirements for student clubs. The students resubmitted their application following the new rules. With the school year more than half over, the students have still not been notified by the school if they can meet.

A complaint charging violations of the federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment was filed today in the United States District Court of Southern District of Texas.

“Officials at Klein High School have been sitting on the students’ application far too long,” said David George, an ACLU cooperating attorney with the firm of Edwards & George, LLP. “It’s time for the school to follow the law or face the consequences in court.”

While the federal Equal Access Act makes it clear that students must be allowed to form GSAs if the school permits other non-curricular clubs, in the past year the ACLU has repeatedly heard from students who have encountered resistance from their school administrators. The excuses used to discriminate against GSAs range from simply failing to respond to student requests to requiring special rules such as parental notification to banning all clubs.

“These baseless excuses to avoid the law just hurt the students who are already struggling to find acceptance in a hostile environment,” said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Through our litigation, we hope educators will come to understand that GSAs make schools safer for all students.”

In the Boyd County case, the GSA is represented by Tamara Lange and ACLU cooperating attorneys Ed Dove and David Friedman of Kentucky. In Houston, Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, is aided by David George.

The ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project is spearheading efforts to help schools address homophobia before it escalates, with a campaign called Every Student, Every School. For more information, go to

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