Education

Gay-Straight Student Clubs Are Recognized

By Mark Walsh — September 13, 2000 1 min read
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A California school district has agreed to a legal settlement recognizing a gay-straight student club rather than continue a public battle that had divided the community for the past year.

The school board in Orange, Calif., was scheduled to vote late last week on policy changes that would make the settlement effective and allow the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School to have the same privileges as other student clubs.

Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City school board voted last week to end a ban on nonacademic clubs at its three high schools that was enacted four years ago to quash the formation of a gay-straight student group.

In the 31,000-student Orange district south of Los Angeles, members of the proposed gay-straight club sued after the school board voted 7-0 last December to deny the group’s application for club status. Some board members said they were morally opposed to the group.

In February, a federal judge held that the board’s action violated the federal Equal Access Act, which requires schools receiving federal funds to treat all non-curriculum-related clubs equally.

Sending a Message

The settlement, which the school board voted 5-2 to accept, guarantees that the Gay-Straight Alliance can meet at El Modena High under its preferred name and requires that it not be singled out for special regulation.

“These students have sent a message to school districts across the nation,” said Myron Dean Quon, a lawyer in Los Angeles for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay-rights group that represented the club. “If students want to form a club on campus, there can’t be discrimination against them based on their sexual orientation or who they want to associate with.”

Board members were to vote Sept. 7 on rules that would bar all clubs from discussing sexual activities and would give parents an opportunity to keep their children from joining specific clubs.

In Salt Lake City, the school board’s 6-1 vote on Sept. 5 to reinstate nonacademic clubs came after parents and students said they were missing out on opportunities for after-school activities, said John Robson, the lawyer for the 25,600-student district.

A gay-straight club would be allowed under the new policy as long as it complied with state law, which restricts discussions of sex in schools, he said.

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