El Modena Gay-Straight Alliance Heads Back to School
(ORANGE, California, September 6, 2000) – Members of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club of El Modena High School and the Orange Unified School District have agreed to a settlement ending the students’ lawsuit against the school district and securing equal treatment for their club.
The settlement agreement, negotiated for the students by the law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, People For the American Way Foundation, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, ensures that the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) will receive the same opportunities that all other school clubs enjoy, such as the right to meet on school grounds and to use the school’s public address system to announce club meetings.
“In this election year when the country is talking about the need to respect diversity, improve education, and end violence, this settlement could not come at a better time,” said Lambda Staff Attorney Myron Dean Quon, adding, “These kids have taught us all a lesson about true respect for diversity.”
“We’re happy that these students and this community can now move past the divisiveness and turmoil of the past year,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “The new school year is a perfect time for a fresh start for everyone in the community. This agreement reflects the fundamental principles of fairness, tolerance, and equality for which these students have fought for almost a year.”
“The settlement is good for everyone,” said attorney Laura W. Brill of Irell & Manella LLP, adding, “It recognizes that the Gay-Straight Alliance may continue meeting on the same basis as other clubs and that the GSA may not be subjected to special rules that do not govern other student groups. Students will continue to have a forum for discussing issues such as anti-gay discrimination that are important to them. Both the GSA members and the school as a whole will benefit from the ongoing presence of the GSA and from having this lawsuit resolved before the start of the new school year.”
The students first applied to meet at school at the beginning of the 1999 fall semester. In late November 1999, having still not received approval of the application, club members filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging violation of the students’ rights under the Constitution and the federal Equal Access Act, which prohibits secondary schools from discriminating against student-initiated groups because of the content of speech at their meetings. In February 2000, the students obtained a preliminary injunction from federal judge David O. Carter allowing them to meet on school grounds while the lawsuit proceeded and to have the same access to school facilities accorded all other student groups. In granting the injunction, Judge Carter noted the vulnerability of young gay people to anti-gay abuse and even suicide, and stated that it was in the public’s interest for the club to exist.
Said Jessie Colín, whose 16-year-old son Anthony founded the club: “I am extremely proud of Tony for standing up for his beliefs. He has taught us all an important lesson in courage and fairness.”
The settlement agreement will become effective upon the school board’s adoption of several new rules applicable to all student clubs, an action expected this month.
CONTACT: PFAWF – Will Heyniger or Melissa Dorfman 202-467-4999
Lambda – Jennifer Grissom 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1971 (pager), or Myron Dean Quon 323-937-2728, ext. 229