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Fighting for

Fighting for


After she was outed by several peers at Holmdel High School in Holmdel, N.J., as a freshman in 2001, Nancy Wadington says she was taunted and harassed by other students. In one incident she was pushed down a staircase. In another, several students urinated on her backpack.

Through it all, Wadington, now 18, complained to school officials, who did nothing to stop it, she claims. Feeling unsafe, she left Holmdel High, eventually graduating from a special-needs school she attended due to stress. With the help of the gay rights group Lambda Legal, Wadington filed a lawsuit September 7 against the Holmdel Township board of -education.

That same day, 17-year-old Charlene Nguon and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit against Santiago High School principal Ben Wolf and the Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange County, Calif. Nguon says she was suspended twice for showing public affection on campus and was told by Wolf not only that she and her girlfriend had to be separated but that one of them had to leave Santiago. Nguon volunteered.

The two pending lawsuits illustrate the legal stand that increasing numbers of openly gay and lesbian students are willing to take. They are arguing for basic protections and fairness, and in most cases they are winning. "The principal was just singling us out," explains Nguon, noting she has never had discipline problems in the past. "Even though straight students did the same thing, they never got in trouble."

Nguon, who is back at Santiago High as a senior (where Wolf is still principal), is asking for a district-wide policy to ensure gay and lesbian students are treated equally. "It's just not right...and I don't want [the school administration] to harass other students," she says. According to the Los Angeles Times, in response to Nguon's allegations, district spokesman Alan Tru-dell said his district "does not engage in any discriminatory practices."

Wadington also says she hopes her lawsuit will make things better for others. "Dealing with abuse and harassment from other students...was a daily struggle for me and continues to be a problem for other gay and lesbian students," she says. Holmdel officials are denying Wadington's allegations, according to Lambda Legal's Alphonso David.

The courage and tenacity shown by Wadington and Nguon are important to the overall fight for equality, notes David. "When a student sees another standing up for their rights, there is a ripple effect."

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