Gay Positive Views Will Not be Censored, Salt Lake School Officials Guarantee

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Federal judge dismisses school clubs case after students get what they wanted
December 2, 1999

(NEW YORK, December 2, 1999) – A federal judge has dismissed a student lawsuit against the Salt Lake City school board because school officials have produced a definitive policy guaranteeing the right to express pro-gay opinions, attorneys for the students said Thursday.

Lead counsel Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, representing the students, were pleased by the judgment by United States Senior District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins.

Ruling in East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Salt Lake City Board of Education late Tuesday, Jenkins wrote that there was no need for future litigation due to the district's declaration that gay-positive views would not be censored.

"If nothing else, plaintiffs...exacted the defendants' reaffirmation that as a matter of policy, gay-positive viewpoints as to matters relevant to the school curriculum may be freely expressed in the existing forum at East and West High Schools,"said Jenkins in his six-page order.

He added, "In light of the District's affirmations made in open court and on the record, one may expect the District to maintain a viewpoint-neutral forum, even without an injunction."

Additionally, Jenkins rejected the notion that gay issues are always inappropriate in schools, saying, "t would be naive at best to assume that expression of such views necessarily would involve the advocacy or even the description of particular sexual behavior or practices. Concerns about discussion of human sexuality in the public school setting have little bearing upon a discussion of the role of gay and lesbian persons in the Holocaust, or the orientation of various historical or literary figures and its impact upon their lives and work."

Keysha Barnes, one of the named plaintiffs, said, "I'm happy because our case has made a difference. This is a step in the right direction because students will feel safer being who they are."

The lawsuit was filed in March 1998, after the school board banned all non-curricular student groups rather than allow the Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to meet. The students from both East and West High School charged that the district infringed first amendment rights and violated a federal law in refusing to allow the GSA to meet.

In October, Judge Jenkins agreed that the Board violated the Equal Access Act – a federal statute prohibiting public schools from picking and choosing among non-curricular clubs – because school officials continued to allow some non-curricular clubs to meet even after those clubs had been banned. He disagreed, however, with the students' argument that the violation was continuing.

In response to the students' first amendment claims that the prohibition on gay-positive viewpoints went beyond non-curricular clubs, the school board unexpectedly announced that students would not be silenced if they tried to express gay-positive views because district policy and a statewide regulation prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in schools.

With those guarantees in place, the judge determined that the students had obtained what they had sought and dismissed the lawsuit.

"The future anticipated by the District's unequivocal policy does not differ dramatically from the future envisioned by plaintiffs' prayer for relief," he said.

(East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Board of Education, No. 2:98CV193J) — 30 —

Contact: Peg Byron, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 pager; David S. Buckel, Lambda, 212-809-8585 x 212; Jon W. Davidson, Lambda, 323-937-2728 x 228; Steven Clark, ACLU, 801-521-9289; Kate Kendall, NCLR, 415-392-6257


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