ACLU Secures Victory for Gay-Straight Alliance at Kentucky High School

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
April 18, 2003 12:00 am

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ASHLAND, KY – A federal court today ordered Boyd County High School, which shut down all school clubs in December in an attempt to silence community controversy over the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), to let the GSA as well as all other clubs start meeting again.

“As the judge noted, anti-gay sentiment is rampant at this school,” said David Friedman, general counsel of the ACLU of Kentucky. “He rightfully recognized that the GSA serves the public interest by working to foster tolerance in a community that clearly needs it.”

In his ruling, Judge David Bunning of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky noted several examples of harassment in the school, including students in an English class stating that they needed to “take all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them.”

In hearings held last month, the ACLU asked the court for an injunction to end the Boyd County Board of Education’s ban of all clubs in the district. The ACLU argued that the ban is an unconstitutional attempt to shut out students who sought to form the GSA and violates federal and state law.

School officials had claimed that disruption at the school by people objecting to the GSA justifies suspending the club.

“The judge here recognized that schools can’t silence students who hold unpopular views, even if those views cause others to react disruptively,” said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. She added, “Instead, the school must punish students who are disruptive.”

In a 47-page opinion, Judge Bunning writes that “…(M)ost students at BCHS are likely to benefit from a preliminary injunction because all other noncurriculum-related student activities are likely to be reinstated when the GSA Club is reinstated. This would include one or more religion or community-service based clubs.”

“We are absolutely thrilled at this news,” said Kaye King, the club’s faculty advisor, adding, “I cannot tell you how proud I am of these kids for standing up for their rights in such a hostile environment.”

On December 20, the Boyd County Board of Education took the extraordinary step of suspending all clubs in all schools K-12 in an effort to prevent approximately 30 students from forming a GSA at Boyd County High School. The students first petitioned the school to form the GSA in March 2002. The school’s Site Based Decision Making Council 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 reversed the council’s decision and suspended all clubs.

The suit is being heard in Ashland by the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Kentucky. The ACLU is represented by Lange and James Esseks, ACLU of Kentucky general counsel Friedman, and ACLU cooperating attorney Ed Dove.

For more information about issues facing LGBT youth in America’s schools, visit /safeschools/.

The court’s injunction is online at /node/36224

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