Lawsuit alleges antigay harassment at Los Angeles school

BY admin

October 30 2004 12:00 AM ET

A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California alleges that administrators, teachers, and security guards at Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles had harassed gay and lesbian students, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The ACLU filed the suit in U.S. district court on behalf of two Washington Prep students and the campus's Gay-Straight Alliance Network club.

The suit alleges that the school and the Los Angeles Unified School District have allowed a climate "rife with hostility" toward gay students to exist on campus. Catherine Lhamon, an ACLU attorney, said that "school administrators turn blind eyes to the harassment" and that some participate in it. "We're talking about a culture that needs to be changed," she told the Times. Kevin Reed, the district's general counsel, said he was "baffled and deeply disappointed that the ACLU chose to follow through with this lawsuit." The district, he said, "leads the country in the protection of the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students."

Since 1985, L.A. Unified has protected such students with antidiscrimination policies, and district officials visited Washington Prep twice this year to train staff in how to deal with gay and lesbian student issues, Reed said. The lawsuit includes an allegation that administrators, teachers, and staff have called students pejorative names and have told students that being gay is "wrong" and "unholy." Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that deans and other administrators have suspended students for being gay or for complaining about harassment.

During a news conference at ACLU offices Thursday, a 17-year-old Washington Prep senior and plaintiff in the lawsuit said that earlier this year school administrators and security officers harassed and punished him for kissing a boy on campus, an act caught on security cameras. The lawsuit says a security officer replayed the videotape several times for other staff members, including a dean and campus police officers, as they laughed and made comments. The dean then suspended both students for two days, the lawsuit says, although he agreed not to record the suspensions in their records.
"I feel very mad, because it just wasn't right for them to be making fun of us and treating us like criminals," one of the students, who were not named in the lawsuit, said Thursday. A second plaintiff, a 17-year-old Washington Prep senior, said Thursday that a teacher wrote a letter to her parents "outing" her. "This teacher invaded my privacy," the girl said.

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