El Modena Students and School Board Resolve Lawsuit Over Gay-Straight Alliance
(ORANGE, CALIFORNIA, September 7, 2000) — In a win-win situation for all, the Orange Unified School District has taken final steps to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the Gay-Straight Alliance of El Modena High School and its founder, student Anthony Colín. The suit was filed to secure equal treatment for the club as required by the federal Equal Access Act. The OUSD Board approved several new rules for all student clubs tonight; the settlement agreement with the GSA was contingent on Board adoption of those new rules.
The settlement agreement gives the students what they had sought in their lawsuit. Most important, the GSA will be able to keep its name and will have the same access to school facilities given all other student clubs, as the federal Equal Access Act requires. This includes the right to meet on school grounds, to use the school's public address system to announce club meetings, and to be featured in the school yearbook. The students will also be able to discuss the many issues of concern to them, including anti-gay discrimination and harassment.
"This important victory ensures that ‘equal’ means ‘equal’ and that the federal Equal Access Act protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. "The settlement is the right thing for the students, the school and the community, and the new school year is a perfect time for everyone to make a fresh start."
Myron Dean Quon, Staff Attorney at Lambda said "It's inspiring that brave young people like Anthony Colín are willing to stand up and fight for the rights of all students. The youth truly led here and taught everyone an important lesson about equality and freedom of speech."
"We're gratified that the school board has recognized its obligation to treat all students equally," said attorney Laura W. Brill of Irell & Manella LLP. "The settlement represents a landmark for gay students gaining acceptance in their communities."
In December 1999, the OUSD Board denied the GSA's application to become a recognized student club and to meet at El Modena High School, despite that fact that several dozen other non-curricular student groups hold meetings at the school. The Board insisted it would only reconsider the club's application if the group changed its name.
Colín and the GSA sued in federal court, seeking relief for violation of their legal rights under the Equal Access Act and the Constitution. In February 2000, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, and ordered the school district to allow the GSA to meet while the lawsuit was pending and to be given the same access to school facilities accorded all other student clubs. This historic ruling is the first decision in which a court ordered a school district to allow a gay-affirming club to meet, under the Equal Access Act. The GSA met at El Modena High School throughout the spring semester without incident.
Colín and the GSA were represented in the lawsuit and the settlement negotiations by the law firm of Irell & Manella LLP, People For the American Way Foundation, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
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