Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saying No to Bans on Gay-Straight Alliances


The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has filed a federal lawsuit against the Nassau County (Fla.) School Board on Feb. 10, after school administrators denied students permission to form Gay-Straight Alliances at Yulee High School and Yulee Middle School.

In a letter denying access to the group, the board’s superintendent said that groups with names referencing a sexual orientation would not be recognized and that even if the group changed its name to one not communicating a gay-specific mission, approval was uncertain.

The ACLU lawsuit is alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, and seeks a preliminary injunction to force school officials to allow the GSA to meet at Yulee High School while the litigation makes its way to trial.
The ACLU of Florida recently won an analogous federal case after Okeechobee High School refused to allow a GSA group to meet. The Okeechobee County School Board ended up paying $326,000 in attorneys’ fees.

“Gay and lesbian students deserve schools that heed the rule of law,” said Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project. “These students are trying to bring a message of equality and openness, and the lesson they are being taught is that Yulee High School administrators believe discrimination against LGBT students is an acceptable policy.”

The federal Equal Access Act requires schools to grant access and recognition to a GSA — and most other student groups — if the school allows any extracurricular groups to meet on campus, which both Yulee schools do. There are more than 4,000 GSAs in the U.S.

My comment: Besides the question of flouting the rule of the law, which this article clearly points out, the issue of clamping down on open debate is also at stake. As a teacher, I have seen this happen far too often, even in colleges. Administrators fear for their lives when teachers try to engage their students in frank discussions of thorny or touchy subjects, sexuality included. Schools sometimes seem to prefer that their students live under coconut shells, and never embrace the world as their oyster. It's all so archaic, so backward looking. Without open debate, modernity is stymied, and progress dies. So come on--give your youngsters the power of knowledge.

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