Main | Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ACLU Wins Reversal In Florida Gay-Straight Student Alliance Case

Via the Palm Beach Post:
A judge has reopened a case involving the Gay-Straight Alliance of Okeechobee High School, allowing students to challenge the school's refusal to allow the club to meet on campus. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore dismissed the case last month, saying the club's founder, Yasmin Gonzalez, no longer was affected by the school's decision because she has graduated.

But Moore reversed the decision Friday, saying Gonzalez still has a stake in the case because she seeks nominal monetary damages. The judge also allowed current student Brittany Martin to become a plaintiff in the case against the school board of Okeechobee County.

"We are absolutely elated," said Rob Rosenwald, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the students. "I know that the students at Okeechobee High School are very excited that their rights will be vindicated."

Attorneys for the school board could not be reached for comment. Gonzalez and the club she created sued the school board in November 2006, claiming it violated the federal Equal Access Act by allowing other extracurricular clubs to meet on school grounds but banning the Gay-Straight Alliance.

In April 2007, Moore ruled that the school had to allow the club to meet on campus while the case worked its way through court. But Moore rescinded the order last month and dropped the alliance as a plaintiff when it appeared that the club no longer had any members. After Gonzalez graduated, subsequent club officials also left the school.

Last month, Moore also rejected Martin's request to become a plaintiff, saying she hadn't suffered because she wasn't a member of the Gay-Straight Alliance when it first was banned from campus in 2006. However, Rosenwald argued that Martin had suffered because she tried to organize club meetings in April and was denied by the school's principal.

In Friday's ruling, Moore agreed Martin had the right to challenge the school district in court. According to court records, school board attorneys have argued the club was denied in April because it was too late in the school year to start a school group.

Moore disagreed, saying in his order that the Gay-Straight Alliance already existed, so Martin was not trying to start a new club. What's more, the judge said the school district has made clear it would deny the club regardless of the date, because it passed a new policy last year denying any clubs that are "sex-based or based upon any sexual grouping, orientation or activity of any kind." Gonzalez has said she started the Gay-Straight Alliance to provide a haven for students to talk about homophobia and to promote tolerance of one another regardless of sexual orientation.
Yasmin Gonzales. Brittany Martin. Heather Gillman. The kids are alright.

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