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3.18.13 GSA Letter

3.18.13 GSA Letter

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GSA demand letter to the Hesperia Unified School District re: Discrimination against LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming Students at Sultana High School
GSA demand letter to the Hesperia Unified School District re: Discrimination against LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming Students at Sultana High School

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11/21/2013

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VIA E-MAIL
March 18, 2013Interim Superintendent David McLaughlinHesperia Unified School District15576 Main StreetHesperia, CA 92345Re: Discrimination against LGBTQ and Gender Non-Conforming Students at Sultana HSDear Superintendent McLaughlin:We are writing on behalf of the Sultana High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club toexpress our serious concern about school administrators
persistent censorship of the GSA
s speech andactivities, and systemic and pervasive discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,queer/questioning (LGBTQ) and gender non-conforming (GNC) students. Far too often, we encounter situations where LGBTQ and GNC students face difficulties at school as a result of bullying andharassment by their peers. At Sultana High School, it sadly seems, the primary bullies are schoolofficials and teachers
 — 
the very adults with a legal obligation and an ethical imperative to stop bullyingand harassment and to ensure an equal and supportive educational experience for all.Officials at Sultana High School have repeatedly violated federal and state law by:(1)
suppressing the GSA
s speech about the club and LGBTQ issues
, censoring its posters andannouncements, refusing to approve its educational events, and treating the GSA differently than other clubs; (2)
discriminating against students who are or are perceived to be LGBTQ and GNC
 bymaking and allowing teachers to make harassing re
marks such as calling students or things “gay,”saying “that‟s so gay” in the classroom,
and in one instance making overt discriminatory commentsabout the Homecoming Queen
s decision to wear a suit in lieu of a dress; failing to investigate, respondadequately to, and discouraging students from filing official complaints about anti-LGBTQ harassmentand discrimination; retaliating against staff who advocate for the rights of the GSA and LGBTQ andGNC students; failing to implement, publicize, or train staff about clear policies and practices regardingdiscrimination and harassment; censoring discussion of LGBTQ issues at school; and treating same-sexcouples differently by selectively enforcing PDA rules against them, excluding them from schooltraditions su
ch as “favorite class couple,” and punishing LGBTQ students more harshly for misconduct
than other students; and (3)
imposing gender stereotypes and suppressing expressions of gendernon-conformity
 by establishing and threatening to enforce gender stereotypical dress codes at schoolsocial events.In alerting you to these issues, we hope and expect that you will take immediate steps to fixthem and to bring the school and district into compliance with the law. We are most immediatelyconcerned about students
ability to wear gender non-conforming attire to prom on April 13
th
; the
 
 2
ongoing censorship of the GSA
s name, announcements, posters and events; and school staff makingharassing and discriminatory remarks in school. Please
tell us by March 25
th
 
whether you will provideus with written assurance that: (1) students will be permitted to wear gender non-conforming attire to
 prom; (2) the GSA will be allowed to use its full name, as well as the words “gay,” “lesbian,”“bisexual,” “transgender,” and “queer,” in its announcements and fliers, and that its announcements,
events, posters, and activity requests will be evaluated and processed just like those of any other club;(3) school administrators will immediately instruct staff to refrain from making discriminatory andharassing comments about LGBTQ and GNC people in the school environment; and (4) whether you arewilling to take action to address the overall hostile environment LGBTQ and GNC students encounter atthe school
 — 
 problems that require longer-term solutions such as addressing policies, procedures, andtraining, which we discuss in further detail below. We are eager to work cooperatively with you toimprove the climate at the school for everyone and to collaborate on how to go about doing so. But if you cannot provide these assurances, please understand that we will pursue all legal avenues necessaryto vindicate the rights of the GSA and its members.
Censorship and Differential Treatment of Sultana
s Gay-Straight Alliance
 It is well established that schools may not block a GSA from conducting its club activities, treatit differently from other non-curricular clubs, suppress its speech, or otherwise discriminate against theclub because school officials do not like the content or viewpoint of the club
s speech. Such actions areclearly prohibited by the Equal Access Act,
1
the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,
2
the freespeech protections in the California Constitution and California Education Code § 48907, and anti-discrimination protections in California Education Code § 220. As the U.S. Department of Education
has made clear, Equal Access Act and First Amendment protections apply to student groups “that
address issues relating to LGBTQ students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity,
 just as they apply to religious and other student groups.”
3
GSAs, LGBTQ students, and their allies, like
all students, enjoy First Amendment protection and do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of 
speech or expres
sion at the schoolhouse gate.”
4
California
s free speech provisions are even more protective than federal law,
5
and censoring, discriminating against, and denying equal access to a GSAis prohibited sexual orientation discrimination under California Education Code § 220.
6
 
The “equal access” a school must
afford a GSA is broad and includes access to all schoolresources other clubs enjoy. Thus, a school may not deny a GSA access to avenues of communicationother student clubs use to promote club activities, such as the public address system, club fairs, bulletin boards, and school newspapers.
7
And, under both the Equal Access Act and First Amendment, a school
1
 
20 U.S.C. § 4071(a) (“It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal
financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis
of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”)
2
 
Good News Club v. Milford Central School District,
121 S. Ct. 2093, 2100-02 (2001).
3
 http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/110607.html;
 see also
http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/groupsguide.doc(legal guidelines).
4
 
Tinker v. Des Moines
, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).
5
 
 Los Angeles Alliance for Survival v. City of Los Angeles
, 22 Cal. 4th 352, 366-67 (2000).
6
 
See
5 Cal. Code Regs. §§ 4900(a), 4927.
7
 
 Bd. of Educ. of the Westside Cmty. Sch. v. Mergens,
496 U.S. 226, 237, 247 (1990);
 Prince v. Jacoby
, 303 F.3d 1074, 1086 (9th Cir. 2002);
Straights & Gays for Equality v. Osseo Area Schs.
, 471 F.3d908, 912 (8th Cir. 2006);
 Boyd County High Sch. Gay Straight Alliance v. Bd. of Educ.
, 258 F. Supp. 2d 667,683-84 (E.D. Ky. 2003).
 
 3
may not censor student club promotional materials, refuse to allow club events, or subject club requeststo heightened scrutiny or more onerous approval processes simply because the school does not approveof or feel comfortable with the viewpoint or message the club seeks to express.
8
Nor may a school forcea GSA to change or truncate its name, as the name of a club has important expressive character.
9
 Unfortunately, Sultana High School officials
 — 
 particularly Principal Larry Bird and Vice Principal H.R.Lugo
 — 
have subjected the school
s GSA to each of these unlawful actions. This must stop immediately.School officials have censored the GSA
s promotional flyers and announcements in ways thatother clubs are not censored and because of the viewpoint and message being conveyed. Indeed, theclub
s very name has typically been truncated from
“Gay
-Stra
ight Alliance” to “GSA”
when morning
announcements are read over the intercom, with the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender,”and “queer” omitted entirely.
 
One announcement submitted as: “Do you identify as straight, lesbian,
 bisexual, gay, or are you questioning everything? Come join Sultana
s Gay Straight Alliance onWednesdays at lunch in room w-11. Join a group of students here on campus that support each other and
want to make a difference for others” was instead broadcast as, “GSA meet
ing in W-
11.” The club‟
srecently submitted announcements have, more often than not, simply not been broadcast at all. Theschool
s attempt to minimize the student body
s awareness of the existence of a group supportive of LGBTQ students is reinforced by the GSA
‟s exclusion from the “School Clubs and Organizations”
listed in Sultana
s 2012-2013 Student Handbook & Planner. And, finally, school officials recentlyrefused to approve for posting club flyers that merely advertised the group as a resource for LGBTQyouth and one flyer that provided definitions for each of the terms in the acronym. Principal Bird told
club members that the flyers were rejected because the word “queer” was deemed offensive, and Vice
Principal Lugo stated words to the effect of,
“if we can‟
t have a discussion in the classroom saying
queer, gay, or lesbian, why should they put them on posters?”
 Not only have the GSA
s efforts to publicize the club and to attract new members been stifled, but its club-related activities have also unfairly been restricted. While other clubs (such as the FutureHomemakers of America, ROTC, Key Club, and Marching Band) regularly screen movies for their members, Principal Bird and Vice Principal Lugo have refused every GSA request this school year for  permission to show educational and age-appropriate movies addressing political and social issuesimportant to LGBTQ youth.
10
School officials have prohibited the GSA from screening movies aboutthe devastating effects of bullying, teen suicide and its impact on the family, the vicious harassment anddiscrimination faced by LGBTQ individuals in rural America, the use of scripture to justifydiscrimination against LGBTQ people, what it means to grow up gay in America, and the quest for loveand acceptance.
11
In one instance, Principal Bird refused the GSA
s request to screen the Lifetime
television movie “Prayers for Bobby” expressly on the basis of its “content,” claiming that the film‟
s
discussion of suicide was too “sensitive” and could have a negative em
otional impact on students. Nosuch emotional sensitivity, however, was invoked to prevent one Sultana teacher from screening
“Schindler‟s List”— 
an R-rated film graphically depicting the horrors of the Holocaust
 — 
for her class.
8
 
 Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the Univ. of Virginia
, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1995);
Good NewsClub
, 121 S. Ct. at 2100-02;
Colin ex rel. Colin v. Orange Unified Sch. Dist 
., 83 F. Supp. 2d 1135, 1141,1149 (C.D. Cal. 2000).
9
 
Colin
, 83 F. Supp. 2d at 1142, 1147-49 (unlawful under First Amendment and Equal Access Act torequire student Gay-
Straight Alliance to change its name and noting that “when passing the EAA,
Congress
did not pass an Access for All Students Except Gay Students Act”).
10
 
The only film the GSA has been allowed to screen this year, “Hairspray,” is devoid of LGBTQ
-related content.
11
 
Among the films proposed and rejected for screening are “Prayers
 
for Bobby,” “Out in Silence,”“For the Bible Tells Me So,” and “True Love.”
 

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