Salt Lake School District Official Sued For Nixing Yet Another Student Club

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Despite in-court pledge not to suppress gay-positive views, district rejects club's application
April 11, 2000

(NEW YORK, Tuesday, April 11, 2000) —The same Salt Lake City school district that gained notoriety by banning dozens of student clubs in order to block the formation of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) is under fire once again. In a lawsuit filed Monday, students charge the assistant superintendent with again violating the law and the district’s own policies in order to keep clubs with a gay perspective off school grounds.

“All we want is to be treated just like the rest of the clubs,” said 11th-grader Jessi Cohen, age 16, who along with classmate Maggie Hinckley is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Our club would be a place for students to look at subjects we learn about in class from the perspective of lesbian and gay people.”

Added Cohen, “Lesbians and gay men have played a role in many of the areas we discuss in our classes. From American History to Government, and Sociology classes, issues affecting lesbian and gay people come up all the time.”

The students’ application for their PRISM club, which stands for “People Respecting Important Social Movements,” was submitted in February and explains that, in order to extend and enhance their study of curriculum subjects, the students want to “talk about democracy, civil rights, equality, discrimination and diversity” with an eye toward the perspectives of lesbians and gay men. The lawsuit alleges that, in denying the club recognition, the assistant superintendent trampled students' first amendment rights of speech and expressive association. PRISM’s attorneys seek a preliminary injunction to allow PRISM club members to meet on school grounds while the case proceeds.

Lead counsel the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the lawsuit in United States District Court in Salt Lake City on behalf of the East High School PRISM Club and two of its members, as well as the East High Rainbow Club, a similar curricular club that was denied recognition during the 1999 academic year.

“Lesbian and gay students and their supportive classmates just want to be on an equal playing field,” said Hinckley, the other 11th grade student involved in the case. “Students were stopped from having a gay straight alliance, and last year the Rainbow club was blocked. Even though our PRISM club fits all the criteria that the school board established, the officials are trying to hold our club to a different standard. That’s unfair,” she said.

In Salt Lake City, only clubs the school district deems “curriculum-related” are recognized since the district officially banned all non-curricular clubs in 1996 in order to thwart students’ attempts to form a gay straight alliance. The legal challenge on behalf of that GSA, East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Board of Ed., continues on appeal. Last November, as part of that case, school officials assured U.S. District Court Judge Bruce Jenkins that gay-positive views would not be suppressed in curriculum-related clubs at East High.

(East High School Prism Club v. Seidel, No. 2:00-CV-0311K)

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


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