Upstate New York School District to Allow Gay Straight Alliance to Form After Lambda Legal Filed Lawsuit

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"I am excited to be able to start the gay-straight alliance. Students working together can help make the school a safer place than it was when my brother was forced to leave."

Date

Date: 
04/17/2009

(Philadelphia, NY April 17, 2009) — Just days after Lambda Legal, with the assistance of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a federal lawsuit against the Indian River Central School District, the District said it will allow Ashley Petranchuk to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).


"After years of denying students like Ashley, her brother Charlie and others their right to form a GSA, Indian River is taking an important first step toward righting its wrongs," said Lambda Legal attorney Michael Kavey. "Respecting students' freedom to stand up for themselves and each other is a key part of creating a safe learning environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and their allies."


"We hope the District's statement that it will finally allow the GSA signals an effort to fully address the discriminatory atmosphere at the schools,"  said Sudwiti Chanda, a partner in the New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. "We will work with Ashley to ensure that the District follows through on its promise to promote tolerance and inclusiveness by providing support, and equal opportunity and treatment to the GSA."


A letter sent by the school district's attorney indicates that Ashley will be allowed to form the GSA student club beginning Monday, April 20, the first school day after spring break. On April 8, 2009, Lambda Legal and Kirkland & Ellis LLP filed a lawsuit representing former student Charlie Pratt and his sister, current sophomore Ashley Petranchuk, in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, The suit describes the severe harassment that Charlie endured throughout his time as a student in the Indian River Central School District.  Students attacked him relentlessly with antigay and sexist slurs, including names like "faggot," "sissy," "queer," and "fudgepacker," often in the presence of teachers who failed to intervene. Students also pushed him into walls and lockers, threatened him, threw food and other objects at him, spat on him, and vandalized his locker with antigay slurs. Staff members at the high school often joined the harassment by ridiculing Charlie with stereotypically effeminate gestures in front of other students.


As described in court papers, then-principal James Kettrick — now the District's superintendent — refused to take appropriate action, and instead told Charlie and his parents, Bobbi and Todd Petranchuk, that Charlie should "tone it down" to avoid harassment. The principal also refused Bobbi Petranchuk's request to train teachers to address antigay bullying, and he failed to change the school's written policies to match state anti–harassment laws covering sexual orientation. Left with no other options, Charlie's parents withdrew him from school for his own protection.


While Charlie was at the high school, the school repeatedly refused to allow students to form a GSA. Last fall, Charlie's sister, Ashley Petranchuk, again requested permission to start a GSA. She was turned down by the assistant principal and principal, who said such a club would bother parents and students. She and her brother sought the assistance of Lambda Legal.


"I am excited to be able to form the Gay–Straight Alliance at Indian River High School," said Petranchuk.  "Students working together can help make the school a safer place than it was when my brother was forced to leave."


While the District's approval of a GSA addresses some aspects of the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and Kirkland & Ellis LLP will press forward with other claims, including claims for damages on behalf of both plaintiffs. The lawsuit seeks damages for Charlie for violations of the federal Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and Free Speech Clause, as well as for violations of Title IX, the Federal Equal Access Act, and New York state antidiscrimination laws.  


The case is Pratt v. Indian River Central School District et al.


Michael Kavey, Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellow at Lambda Legal, is joined by Lambda Legal Deputy Legal Director Hayley Gorenberg, and pro bono co-counsel Sudwiti Chanda, Partner, and Adam Humann, Associate, of the New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis, LLP. 


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Erin Baer 212-809-8585 ext 267; Email: ebaer@lambdalegal.org


Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.


Kirkland & Ellis LLP is a 1,500–attorney law firm with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Munich, Palo Alto, Calif., San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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