Judge Orders School to Make Room for Student Club with Gay Perspective
(SALT LAKE CITY, April 27, 2000) — Over the objections of school administrators, a federal judge has ordered that a student club intending to look at classroom subjects from the perspective of lesbians and gay men should be allowed to meet at their Salt Lake City high school. “I am really excited that the perspectives of gay people finally will be discussed at our high school,” said 11th-grader Maggie Hinckley who along with classmate Jessi Cohen is suing the school official that denied their club’s application in March. “All we have ever asked for is to be treated like all the other clubs. It feels great finally to be treated fairly,” said Cohen.
Said Hinckley, “Students at East High will be able to better appreciate the role lesbians and gay men play in classroom subjects like American History, Government and Sociology. We will at last have a chance to show everyone that clubs like PRISM are important to enhancing what we learn at school.” PRISM stands for “People Respecting Important Social Movements.”
In granting the students’ motion for a preliminary injunction late Wednesday, Judge Tena Campbell of the United States District Court in Salt Lake City found that the school district’s assistant superintendent did not adhere to the district’s own policies in determining that the PRISM club was not sufficiently “curriculum-related.” By using a unique standard to deny the club’s application, the District failed to “respect the lawful boundaries it has itself set,” wrote Judge Campbell.
The judge’s ruling follows an April 19th hearing at which Stephen Clark, ACLU of Utah legal director, argued that, in barring the PRISM club from meeting, school officials were suppressing students’ first amendment right of speech and expressive association. Lead counsel the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, represent the students and their club.
The students filed their lawsuit filed against Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Seidel on April 11, and stated that their first amendment rights initially were suppressed last year when officials rejected the application of the Rainbow Club, also a curricular club that intended to look at school subjects from gay perspectives.
Added Cohen, “We are glad the judge affirmed the important lessons about free speech that students are supposed to learn in high school. The First Amendment gives us the right to come together and discuss things even when others might not like what we have to say.”
The order ensures that the PRISM club will meet while the courts determine whether the club’s denial was indeed a violation of the students’ constitutional rights. The students intend to hold their first meeting soon, although no official date has been set.
In 1996, this same school district took the drastic measure of banning all non-curricular student groups in order to thwart students’ attempts to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club. The legal challenge on behalf of that GSA, East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Board of Ed., continues on appeal.
Contact: Peg Byron, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 pager; Jon W. Davidson, Lambda, 323-937-2728 x 228; Carole Gnade, ACLU, 801-521-9862; Shannon Minter, NCLR, 415-392-6257