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ACLU: Court prohibits school district from refusing to recognize gay-straight alliance at Yulee High School

ACLU of Florida news release:

JACKSONVILLE U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr. today issued a preliminary order in a lawsuit seeking to force Nassau County School officials to uphold students’ right to equal access.  The order prohibits the school district from refusing to recognize the Gay Straight Alliance (“GSA”) as long as other student organizations are given official recognition. The GSA ‘s mission is to help curb bullying and harassment against LGBT students and to discuss harassment and discrimination. The ACLU of Florida filed the lawsuit on behalf of two students and the GSA after Yulee High School officials unlawfully denied the students permission to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). 

“This is a victory for our clients, for the Yulee High GSA, and indeed for gay and straight kids all across America,” said Robert Rosenwald, ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Director and lead counsel for the students. “Time and time again, we’ve seen discrimination and intolerance struck down by the courts in these cases, and for every school that wishes to cross the line, we’ll be here to defend the students.”

The judge made the ruling today citing an earlier ACLU of Florida case, Gonzalez v. Sch. Bd. Of Okeechobee Co., where the court rejected the school board’s argument that such a club would interfere with “discipline in the operation of the school,” noting that the “Defendant’s position is not well founded and Plaintiffs have established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

In addition to allowing the club to meet on campus, the judge’s preliminary injunction order prohibits the school from forcing the club to change its name, as the principal had previously demanded, in reciprocation for club recognition. The order also prohibits the school from interfering with the club’s goals of advocating “for tolerance, respect and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people,” and forbids any retaliation by the school.

“Gay and straight students deserve a learning atmosphere that promotes tolerance.  That is exactly what these students are promoting, and it’s a lesson that we hope the school officials will learn from them,” Rosenwald added.

School administrators at Yulee High School repeatedly denied student requests for permission to form a GSA and to hold meetings at the school this year, and previously at Yulee Middle School in the 2007-2008 school year. On February 10, 2009 the ACLU sued the Nassau County Schools to enforce the right of students to form a GSA and to obtain equal access to the school, similar to the rights enjoyed by other extracurricular clubs that meet on campus.

The ACLU has won other recent GSA cases across the country, from Madera, California to White County, Georgia and most recently in Okeechobee, Florida.       

GSAs are student organizations comprised of straight and gay students who wish to put an end to bullying, harassment and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.  Bullying of LGBT students in Nassau County Schools is a serious problem. ACLU plaintiffs Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, who are gay, report that students have threatened to beat them up based on their sexual orientation, and both are routinely called derogatory names at the school.  Ms. Page reported that they just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about the harassment and the discrimination against gay kids in an open environment.

Gay-Straight Alliance of Yulee High School vs. School Board of Nassau County was filed in the Jacksonville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  Robert Rosenwald, Director of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project is lead counsel for the ACLU case, along with Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director, and Shelbi Day, ACLU of Florida LGBT staff attorney.

Download a PDF of today’s injunction here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleePIwin.pdf

Download a PDF of the original Complaint here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/YuleeComplaint.pdf

Students can learn more about their rights by downloading a free copy of the ACLU of Florida’s Student Rights Handbook at: www.aclufl.org.

About the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project

The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.

The ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project has worked since 2005 to protect the legal rights of Florida’s LGBT community and is the leading organization protecting gay kids from discrimination and harassment.  For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org/lgbt

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