Gay/Straight Alliance's Lawsuit to Proceed Against Salt Lake School Board
(NEW YORK, October 8, 1999) -- Ruling that the Salt Lake City Board of Education violated a federal statute and also may have violated the First Amendment, a Utah federal district judge has given the green light to gay and straight students suing the Board for trying to ban meetings of their student club and suppressing gay-positive views in existing and new student groups.
“The First Amendment protects expression of all viewpoints, regardless of either their popularity or lack of general acceptance, or even the fears that particular opinions may engender,” Federal District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins wrote in his 55-page ruling on summary judgment motions released Thursday.
Lambda Supervising Attorney Jon W. Davidson and Staff Attorney David S. Buckel argued the motions for the students. Lead counsel Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of the East High School Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) and two of its members. Plaintiff Ivy Fox, a senior at East High and co-president of the GSA, said following the ruling, “It feels great that the judge recognized a violation of our rights, and said that we get to have our day in court.”
Because the students’ first amendment rights may have been violated, Jenkins moved their lawsuit forward to trial. He also ruled that the Board had violated the federal Equal Access Act, since at least one non-curricular club was allowed to meet in the 1997-1998 school year, when the lawsuit was filed.
But Jenkins disagreed with plaintiffs’ contention that the Board allowed non-curricular groups to meet in subsequent school years. That issue will be appealed after trial of the first amendment claims, unless the Board decides to modify its policies, which the plaintiffs have been asking it to do throughout the dispute.
Under the Equal Access Act, a federally funded public school that provides access to any non-curricular club -- such as use of the public address system and school bulletin boards -- must also provide equal treatment to all other non-curricular clubs, regardless of the views of those clubs’ members. Schools cannot pick and choose among non-curricular clubs. In April 1996, the Board terminated 46 school clubs it deemed not directly linked to the curriculum, including Students Against Drunk Driving and the Young Republicans, in an effort to keep an earlier GSA from meeting.
Alliances of gay and straight students have become increasingly common at schools around the country, often forming in response to anti-gay hostility and violence from other students. Fox has reported that forming their group helped to reduce some of the anti-gay harassment at her high school.
Contact: Joneil Adriano, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 241, 888-987-1971 pager
David S. Buckel, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 212
Jon W. Davidson, Lambda, 323-937-2728 x 228
Carole Gnade, ACLU, 801-521-9862
Shannon Minter, NCLR, 415-392-6257