Lambda Legal Sends Advocacy Letter to South Medford High School on Behalf of Gay Straight Alliance
Letter sent on 'National Day of Silence,' which recognizes victims of anti-gay bullying
(Medford, Oregon, April 17, 2009) — Lambda Legal has sent a letter of support to South Medford High School Principal Kevin Campbell, Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long, and the School Board on behalf of South Medford High School student and Gay Straight Alliance member Connie McNair.
The letter objects that school officials have been imposing restrictions on the Medford High GSA to which no other on-campus group is subject and that seriously burden club members' free speech and associational rights. These include requiring GSA members to get prior approval for their announcements and activities from an assistant principal, deeming the club's legitimate educational activities illicit "proselytizing," and even prohibiting the club from formally announcing today's "Day of Silence." The Day of Silence is a national event calling attention to anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools.
In the letter, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli writes "While we hope that the school's actions to deter the GSA's activities are simply the result of confusion about its obligations, the law in this area is well–established and school's unequal treatment of the GSA is difficult to understand and should be remedied swiftly."
In addition to the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution, public school students are also protected by the federal Equal Access Act. The EAA says that if a school receives federal funds and allows extracurricular student groups to meet, it cannot discriminate against any of the groups based on the content of its speech. GSA groups across the country have used the EAA in court to protect their right to free speech.
"It's simply unlawful for South Medford High School to create unequal obstacles for Connie or the GSA, or to stifle the GSA's announcements about the Day of Silence," said Borelli. "We want to remind South Medford school officials that they have a responsibility to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and we're asking them to lift any restriction applying to the GSA but not to other groups.
"All we want is safety and equality within our school," said McNair. "Our GSA members want
students, school officials, and the community to know that we can't be discriminated against based on our speech or activities."
Lambda Legal has given school officials until May 1 to respond to the letter.
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