The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the School Board of Nassau County, Florida for denying students permission to open Gay-Straight Alliances in Jacksonville’s Yulee HS and Middle School. In prohibiting the GSA, school district’s superintendent, John L. Ruis, is quoted in the State saying, “A club highlighting sexual orientations will not be permitted as it would violate school board policy.” ACLU argues that the School Board must allow students to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in both schools, because the right of students to form a GSA is protected by the First Amendment, and the Equal Access Act.
The Equal Access Act was passed by Congress in 1984 to prohibit
… 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.
It creates a protective shell for students’ groups in public schools, including gay/lesbian student groups. Hannah Page, student from Yulee High, quoted in The State, said “We just want the club so that straight and gay kids can get together to talk about harassment and discrimination against gay kids in an open environment.”
The ACLU has dealt with a similar case in Okeechobee and won. In that case, Robert Rosenwald, Director of the ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project said that the Judge (K. Michael Moore) had ruled that: “GSAs are beneficial to gay students and that they don’t harm straight students.” The judge also quoted “the famed 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines case stating that students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate’.” Robert Rosenwald also said
These are brave students who would not be silenced and did not tolerate discrimination. So many children cannot stand up for themselves, but hopefully this ruling will serve as warning to other Florida schools that equal access truly means equal access, and schools that choose not to follow the law will be inviting similar litigation.