ACLU, students file suit to let GSA meet on campus

Several Georgia students, led by the ACLU and Advocate Person of the Year Kerry Pacer (pictured), have sued for the right to have the gay-straight alliance meet on campus.

BY

February 28 2006 12:00 AM ET

In the ongoing
battle to reinstate a gay-straight alliance club at White
County High School in northeast Georgia, the American Civil
Liberties Union on Monday filed a lawsuit in federal
court against school officials, claiming they
illegally banned the club. Several students, led by The
Advocate's 2005 Person of the Year, Kerry
Pacer, started the club to address rampant antigay
harassment at the school.

Last year
school administrators reluctantly agreed to let the
club form after several months of stalling when the
ACLU of Georgia stepped in and negotiated on the
students' behalf. A few days later school officials
announced plans to ban all noncurricular student groups for
the 2005–2006 academic year.

The GSA, called
PRIDE, hasn't been permitted to meet on campus this
school year, but several other clubs—including a
shooting club and a school dance team—continue
meeting at the school even though they don't
participate in activities relevant to the curriculum,
academic credit is not provided for participation in
them, and participation in them isn't required for any
course.

"I've been
assaulted at school twice and called names more times than
I can remember, and I know gay students who have had to drop
out of our school because the harassment was so bad,"
said Charlene Hammersen, a 17-year-old lesbian and a
founding member of PRIDE. "We need a gay-straight
alliance because it would make our school safer for
everyone."

The ACLU suit
alleges that school district officials violated the
students' rights under the federal Equal Access Act and the
U.S. Constitution. The ACLU also asked the U.S.
district court for the northern district of Georgia to
issue a preliminary injunction requiring the school to
let all noncurricular student groups start meeting again
immediately. "White County High School has been picking and
choosing which clubs it likes and which ones it
doesn't in clear violation of federal law," said Beth
Littrell, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia
who represents several members of PRIDE and their parents.
"Students should be able to be part of the gay-straight
alliance, just as they're being allowed to participate
in the shooting club."

The federal Equal
Access Act requires schools to treat gay-straight
alliances as they would any other school group. Federal
courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of GSAs where
schools tried to block their formation, upholding
students' right to form the groups in Salt Lake City;
Orange County, Calif.; Franklin Township, Ind.; and Boyd
County, Ky. (Advocate.com)

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