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ACLU, students
file suit to let GSA meet on campus

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.

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 TheAdvocate'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. (

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