Milwaukee Students Win Right to Form Anti-Homophobic Club

Affiliate: ACLU of Wisconsin
April 2, 2000 12:00 am

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Milwaukee, WI — After being denied access to school facilities, Safe Haven, a student group promoting gay tolerance, won the same status at Kettle Moraine High School as Bible study clubs, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The local ACLU handled the case.

According to the Journal Sentinel, the students contacted the ACLU of Wisconsin after co-principal Mary Schwartz denied their proposal to form as a co-curricular organization.

“Really, it’s outrageous that [school officials] would take this attitude that is so almost hostile to the interests of their students,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Here they’re doing something that’s exclusionary, discriminatory. [It] sends a bad message to students, both straight and gay.”

The students, who do not say they are gay themselves, were upset by what they saw as tolerance at the school for anti-homosexual sentiments, said Pamela Martin, a sociology teacher at the school who is sponsoring Safe Haven. The students find such remarks as offensive as racial slurs and wanted a forum to discuss the problem and try to educate the school, said Martin.

The students’ application to form the group at the school describes it as “open to all for talks about acceptance and tolerance of all, including sexual orientation.” The group has about ten members.

Schwartz said she had denied the group’s request because “I did not think it would fit well in the community, and the issues could emerge naturally in other locations.” The school’s Human Relations Coalition already looks into diversity issues, she said.

After being contacted by members of Safe Haven, Peter Koneazny, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, wrote a letter to the Kettle Moraine School District, saying that denying the group’s application was discriminatory and violated state and federal laws.

After the School District’s attorney said Koneazny was correct, Superintendent Sarah Jerome told School Board members that she would allow Safe Haven to operate in a “limited open forum” at the high school.

That allows the group to meet as long as it has a sponsor and doesn’t disrupt educational activities, Jerome said.

The ACLU tangled with the school district two years ago when a School Board member tried to ban Rolling Stone magazine from the high school library. The district also has been criticized by another group, Freedom from Religion, based in Madison, for allowing pre-prom Masses at the high school.

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