Colín v. Orange Unified School District

Summary

After deferring action on their application for several months while denying students permission to meet, the Orange Unified School District Board formally denied an application by the gay-straight alliance to become a recognized student club and to meet at El Modena High School. The board insisted it would only reconsider the club’s application if the group changed its name and agreed to limitations on speech not required of other clubs. With joint representation by Lambda Legal and People For the American Way Foundation, Anthony Colín (the club’s student founder), club member Heather Zeitin and the GSA sued in federal court, seeking relief for violation of their legal rights under the Equal Access Act and the U.S. Constitution. In 2000, after a preliminary injunction was granted allowing the club to meet pending trial, a favorable settlement was reached. The GSA was allowed to keep its name and was given the same access to school facilities as all other student clubs.

Context

The federal Equal Access Act states that schools that receive federal funding and allow at least one after-school club to meet and use the school’s facilities may not deny any student club the same treatment based on the content of what they want to discuss.

Lambda Legal's Impact

This landmark case marks the first time a school was ordered to allow a GSA to meet on campus. Since then, it’s been invoked countless times around the country when students’ rights to form a GSA have been questioned.

History

  • November 24, 1999 Lambda Legal and People For the American Way Foundation file federal lawsuit on behalf of high school students denied the right to have a gay-straight alliance treated the same as other recognized student clubs at their school.
  • December 7, 1999 After months of delaying students’ request to allow the GSA to meet, the Orange Unified School Board formally votes 7–0 to deny the students their legal rights to meet at the school.
  • January 24, 2000 GSA members from El Modena High School seek preliminary injunction ordering school officials to allow them equal access to school facilities as the lawsuit continues.
  • February 4, 2000 U.S. District Judge David Carter grants motion for preliminary injunction and orders school district to allow GSA to meet while the lawsuit is pending. This historic decision is the first to order a school district to allow a gay-affirming club to meet.
  • September 7, 2000 Victory! Members of the GSA reach settlement with school district, ending the students’ lawsuit. In the settlement, the club members obtain everything they sought in their lawsuit.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Landmark Case

Plaintiffs

Anthony Colín, Heather Zeitin, Gay-Straight Alliance Club of El Modena High School

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Elliot Mincberg, Judith Schaeffer, David Codell, Laura Brill

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Jon W. Davidson, Myron Quon