ACLU Sues Southern California School District to Stop Unequal Treatment of Gay and Lesbian Students

September 7, 2005 12:00 am

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Honor Society Candidate Suspended for Hugging Girlfriend on Campus

LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, an Orange County high school senior, and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network filed a lawsuit today against the Garden Grove Unified School District in an effort to stop discrimination and harassment of gay and lesbian students on campus.

Charlene Nguon filed suit with her mother after Santiago High School Principal Ben Wolf told her that either she or her girlfriend had to leave the high school at the end of her junior year for a neighboring school, Bolsa Grande. Previously he had singled Nguon out for discipline a number of times for displaying affection with her girlfriend.

“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. “Instead of derailing Charlene’s academic achievements because she is a lesbian, school administrators should be doing their job to make sure that every student thrives regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Nguon, 17, is a straight-A student ranked in the top five percent of her class, and had no prior record of discipline. She is enrolled in a number of advanced placement and honors classes and was a candidate for the National Honor Society until the offer was rescinded because of discipline, including one weeklong suspension, for hugging her girlfriend on campus.

“I just don’t understand why my girlfriend and I were not allowed to be affectionate but other couples are,” said Nguon, who hopes to attend the University of Southern California, Stanford University or Loyola Marymount University next fall. “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 because we are lesbians.”

The lawsuit, which was filed along with the law firm Latham and Watkins and the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, in federal district court in Santa Ana, seeks to clear Nguon of any discipline on her record. Nguon’s grades slipped when she was forced to switch to Bolsa Grande High School, where she had to struggle to catch up with that school’s curriculum. Her daily commute also grew from a four-block walk to a four-and-a-half-mile bike ride.

After the ACLU sent a letter to the district in late July, Nguon was allowed to return to Santiago where she had been enrolled since her freshman year. But the school has made no effort to improve the climate on campus or to ensure Nguon will not be targeted for discipline again.

“The way Principal Wolf and the staff at Santiago have treated Charlene, myself, and our family is not fair and not right,” said Charlene’s older sister, Eileen Malm of Laguna Hills. “Charlene’s distress pushed her to consider dropping out of school. I told her not to throw her life away because of one person’s unjust actions. Because the school refuses to stop the discrimination against Charlene, I feel we have no other choice but to file a lawsuit to make sure Charlene can continue with her studies and not face any harassment.”

The lawsuit also seeks to create a district-wide policy and guidelines to ensure that gay and lesbian students are treated equally.

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