Fla. School Faces Lawsuit Over Refusing Gay-Straight Club

A Florida school district is being sued after refusing a student club that promotes the tolerance of gays alongside gay pride.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has filed suit against the School Board of Nassau County for denying two students permission to form Gay-Straight Alliance ("GSA") this school year at Yulee High School and during the 2007-08 school year at Yulee Middle School. 

The suit was filed on behalf of Hannah Page, 15, a freshman, and Jacob Brock, 16, a junior, who both claimed to have been harassed for being gay. The high school students said they wanted to establish GSA on campus to provide a safe environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender students and their straight friends.

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU attorney Robert F. Rosenwald, claims violations of the First Amendment and the Federal Equal Access Act.

"We just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about harassment and discrimination against gay kids in an open environment. The school is discriminating against us and that's exactly the kind of thing we want to talk about and prevent," says Page.

"Other clubs and groups are allowed to meet on campus and we have that right too."

According to the ACLU complaint, various noncurricular clubs were allowed to meet during the 2007-08 school year, including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Superintendent John Ruis told the ACLU in a January meeting and follow-up letter that the club will be permitted if the members change its name.

"We were willing to let the proposed GSA meet on the condition that the name of the club was changed to reflect the purpose of preventing bullying and discrimination," said Ruis in the letter addressing the case's lead counsel Rosenwald.

"A club name highlighting specific sexual orientations will not be permitted as it would violate school board policy," he wrote.

According to Ruis' letter, the ACLU was dissatisfied with the name-change request because it said the name of the club must communicate the "gay specific" purpose of the organization and contended it was illegal for the school board to "de-gay" a student club.

Given the foregoing representations made by ACLU the Jan. phone conference, Ruis said the GSA club as proposed would be denied access to Yulee High.

Ruis noted that if the group wished to reconsider the previous offer, the school board would "take on further review and evaluation of the club's proposed constitution to ensure the club meets current school board standards."

Rosenwald said there are about 150 Gay-Straight Alliances in Florida, the Florida Times-Union reported.

In an opinion piece for a weekly Florida newspaper, Dennis Todd, a licensed school psychologist in private practice, cited health concerns toward his objection to the GSA club at Yulee High.

He said allowing GSA would expose adolescents to sexual experimentation that carry serious moral, psychological and health consequences, including depression and disease.

"I believe that gay clubs will increase these problems," he wrote in the Fernandina Beach News-Leader.

The ACLU of Florida recently won a similar federal case when school officials in Okeechobee, Fla., refused to allow a GSA to meet at Okeechobee High School.

A judge presiding over the case ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA.

The Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorneys' fees for refusing to follow the law in that case. 

The ACLU has also pushed the acceptance of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at schools elsewhere.

At Waynesboro Area Senior High School in Pennsylvania, the district school board voted 6-3 to allow the GSA following a two-hour hearing on Tuesday and a month of debate.

Dozens of members of the community, the majority of whom are against the club's formation, showed up at the public hearing to voice their opinions on the club. Those who spoke against the club cited moral and religious reasons among their concerns, reported WHAG-TV.

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