Noble Street Gay Straight Alliance v. Noble Network of Charter Schools

Summary

Jorge Mena and Heather Hall, seniors at the Noble Street Charter High School in Chicago, founded a gay-straight alliance to promote “awareness, safety, respect and tolerance of all sexual orientations…” But they had to overcome their school’s intolerance first. The group was forced to meet unofficially and denied access to resources other clubs had. Lambda Legal filed a discrimination complaint in federal court asserting the students’ rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, which states that schools that receive federal funds and allow noncurricular student groups to meet on campus are prohibited from discriminating against any group based on its viewpoint. Lambda Legal successfully settled the case. The GSA now must be treated the same as any other group, with access to meeting space, permission to advertise their meetings on campus and the right to be included in the school yearbook.

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 was the first GSA case to successfully challenge a charter school’s attempt to prevent students from forming an LGBT student group. While charter schools are freed from some of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools, they still receive state and federal money and therefore may not discriminate against LGBTQ students. The case reaffirms students’ rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act to form a GSA.

History

  • April 2006 Lambda Legal files lawsuit in federal court to stop discrimination against students at the Noble Street Charter High School who tried to create a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student group.
  • June 2006 Victory! In a settlement agreement, Noble Street GSA receives equal access to campus facilities, ability to advertise their meetings on campus, and other rights accorded other non-curricular student clubs.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Victory

Plaintiffs

Heather Hall, Jorge Mena, the Noble Street Gay Straight Alliance

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
James P. Madigan

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Marie Lona and Eric Broxterman at Winston & Strawn LLP