ACLU Sues on Behalf of CA 8th Grader Barred from Gym Class Because of Sexual Orientation

December 17, 2002 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights today filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ashly Massey, an eighth grader from the rural town of Banning who was forced to sit in the principal’s office during physical education class after the gym teacher heard that she was a lesbian.

“This is a clear case of discrimination,” said Martha Matthews, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “Ashly did nothing wrong, but she was denied access to a public school class and forced to sit in the office day after day.”

The lawsuit states that the school’s actions violated Ashly’s constitutional right to equal protection as well as her rights under the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, a new California law that prohibits discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation.

Courtney Joslin, a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, added that “even if students are uncomfortable sharing gym class with someone of a different sexual orientation, the school does not have a right to discriminate. Instead, the school should educate students on getting along with others in an increasingly diverse society.”

According to the legal complaint, soon after the gym teacher heard that Ashly was a lesbian, she called Ashly’s mother to inform her that there was a problem with Ashly being in the girl’s locker room because of Ashly’s sexual orientation. Ashly’s mother asked the gym teacher if her daughter had misbehaved. The teacher reported that Ashly had not acted improperly or made any inappropriate comments to other students. Ashly’s mother asked the teacher to call her again if there were any future problems.

Ashly’s mother never received another call from the gym teacher. When Ashly showed up for gym class the next day, she was told that she would no longer be allowed in gym class and to go to the principal’s office instead. For the next week and a half, Ashly sat in the principal’s office during the time she was supposed to be in gym class. During this time, no school official ever met with Ashly or her mother to discuss the situation. Ashly’s humiliating ordeal ended only when her class schedule was changed for unrelated reasons.

“It wasn’t right for the school to discriminate against me because of my sexual orientation,” said Ashly e time of the incident. “I’m hoping this inspires other people to take a stand when they feel they haven’t been treated right or when they see someone treated unfairly.”

“It’s not right for anybody to have to go through this,” she added.

Ashly’s complaint, filed in federal court in Riverside, asks for damages and for an injunction requiring the school to develop policies, teacher training and other measures to ensure that students do not suffer similar discrimination in the future.

The ACLU/NCLR legal brief is online at: /node/35015.

The national ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project is spearheading efforts to help schools address homophobia before it escalates. They are providing the tools and assistance for communities to make educational environments safe and supportive for every student in every school. For more information, go to /LesbianGayRights/LesbianGayRightslist.cfm?c=106

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