Settlement reached with Kentucky gay-straight alliance
February 04 2004 12:00 AM ET
After a lengthy legal battle, officials in Boyd County, Ky., have agreed to allow students in a gay rights group to meet at Boyd County High School. The school board voted Monday to accept a consent decree that settles a lawsuit by the Gay-Straight Alliance. That lawsuit accused the school district of violating the constitutional rights of members of the group by denying them the right to meet at the school. Kaye King, a teacher who sponsored the alliance, said she is thrilled by the school board's action. "The kids are going to be thrilled that this is over with," she said. "It's been very taxing for them." The settlement requires that the district treat all student clubs equally and conduct antiharassment training for all district staff as well as all students in high schools and middle schools, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the case.
The vote came after a three-hour closed session, but board members said they continue to have misgivings. "For the betterment of education and our students, I feel we should sign it and move on," board member Chester Tackett said. Tamara Lange, an ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project attorney who represented the GSA, hailed the decision. "The Boyd County Public Schools wasted over a year's time and a lot of taxpayer money to try to stop these students from having their club, when a federal judge had already made it clear that the district was breaking the law by trying to silence students who wanted nothing more than a place to talk about how to stop antigay harassment and discrimination at school and in the community."
Students first petitioned to form the club in October 2002, saying that gay students at the high school had been subjected to threats and harassment and that the club was needed to foster tolerance and understanding. In December 2002, the Boyd County Board of Education took the extraordinary step of suspending all clubs in all schools in the district--kindergarten through 12th grade--in an effort to prevent a group of students from forming a GSA at Boyd County High School. Local ministers had organized school walkouts and a public rally to voice their opposition to the GSA, and school officials claimed that that disruption at the school by people objecting to the GSA justified suspending the club. U.S. district judge David Bunning in April granted the students' motion for a preliminary injunction to allow the group the same access as other student groups at the high school.
"This club has never been about anything but making a safe space for students who are harassed on a daily basis in our school," King said. "We're glad the school finally understands that and is taking steps to address the harassment in our district on a wider scale." In hearings leading up to the injunction, testimony from members of the GSA had painted a grim picture of a school where harassment is rampant. For example, students in an English class once stated that they needed to "take all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them." Said Beth Wilson, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky: "Schools have to understand that allowing students to form gay-straight alliances like the one at Boyd County High School is not only what they're required to do by law but is also something they should be encouraging. GSAs work to foster tolerance and make students who have traditionally been marginalized feel safe and valued. Schools not only shouldn't discriminate against GSAs, they should be encouraging them to form."