Lesbian teen sues California school

BY Advocate.com Editors

December 19 2002 1:00 AM ET

The family of a 15-year-old girl has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against California's Banning Unified School District after a teacher allegedly kicked the girl out of gym class because she is a lesbian. The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. district court in Riverside, alleges that the school district violated the state and U.S. constitutional rights of the student, Ashly Massey. It seeks changes in school policies to handle harassment of students based on sexual orientation, as well as unspecified monetary damages. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of Massey's family.

Named as defendants in the suit are the Banning school district, the superintendent, the principal and then-vice principal of Coombs Middle School, and Karen Gill, the physical education teacher who allegedly removed Massey from class. Coombs Middle School dean of students Bryan James said the school is aware of the allegation. "We don't know this to be true, but if it is true, it's wrong," James said.

Massey, who is a lesbian, said only a few friends knew her sexual orientation last March, when a classmate asked her if she was gay while the students were in a locker room. Massey said another student didn't wait for her answer, loudly blurting out, "She's a lesbian!" The teen claims her gym teacher told her, "Nobody needs to know that."

That same evening, the teacher allegedly called the girl's mother and said some of the students felt uncomfortable with the teen being in the locker room, the lawsuit claims. Although the teacher said Massey had never acted inappropriately, the next day the girl was told to report to the principal's office instead of gym class, the lawsuit alleges. She sat in the principal's office during gym period for 1 1/2 weeks. The girl claims she was never told why she was barred from class or whether she was being punished.

Roger Wolfertz, deputy general counsel for the California Department of Education, said it appears that the girl's rights were violated. "Just because this person is a disclosed homosexual, it would be illegal to kick her out of the class just for that," he said.

Massey said that as word spread about her sexual orientation, she was targeted by classmates who hurled insults at her. Her name was even sprayed in hateful graffiti around the school, she added.

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