LGBTQ students in Indiana are fighting back after administrators silenced them from publicly organizing a gay-straight alliance, according to a lawsuit filed late week by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Leo Pride Alliance, the LGBTQ student group of Leo Junior Senior High School just outside Fort Wayne, Indiana, is suing the district which allegedly won’t let the group call themselves a Gay Straight Alliance or allow them to operate like other extracurriculars.
“This isn’t just people who want to have a fun club,” Kit Malone, Transgender Education and Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU of Indiana, told INTO. “There is a real pressing need.”
According to the complaint, filed November 30, the district insisted that if the group wanted to create a bulletin board for LGBT history month, it would have to perform community service or have its content approved.
In an alarming move, Leo Pride Alliance’s faculty advisor was forced to turn over a list of the club’s roughly 30 members to every teacher at the school, which is not required of other groups and made some members so uncomfortable they began to leave the club.
“Not only is the club not allowed to refer to itself as a GSA but its members may not use the words gay, GSA, LGBT+, or similar language, in any of the announcements concerning the club,” the lawsuit alleges. “Unlike other clubs, the Leo Pride Alliance is not allowed to meet outside of a single classroom. It cannot participate in school fundraisers.”
Leo Pride Alliance alleges that the district made the group call itself a “pride alliance,” with the “pride” standing not for LGBTQ issues, but “Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diligence, and Excellence.”
“Of course the generic idea of diversity is a wonderful idea, and kids should be able to have those kinds of clubs,” said Malone. “But those clubs don’t provide solutions for the specific needs of the LGBTQ students.”
The suit hinges on the Constitution’s First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause and the Equal Access Act, which requires federally-funded secondary schools to grant equal access to extracurricular activities.
“This group aims to create an environment that provides social, emotional and educational support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU of Indiana, in a statement. “The differential treatment aimed at Leo Pride Alliance by administrators is unwarranted.”
In 2015, LGBTQ School Advocacy organization GLSEN found that students in Indiana reported widespread hostility in schools in its National Climate Survey. A staggering 77 percent said they had been harassed or assaulted because of their sexual orientation and another 58 percent reported abuse because of their gender expression.
East Allen’s non-discrimination policy does not include specific protections for LGBTQ students.
“We take the rights of our students seriously,” the district said in a statement to INTO. “We are looking into this matter.”
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