FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | November 29, 2005
National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality Florida Demand that St. Johns County School Superintendent Permit Students to Start Gay Straight Alliance Club
"The homophobic way in which Principal Allten denied the request to start a GSA helps highlight why clubs like this are so important."
(St. Augustine, FL November 29, 2005) — The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) sent a letter today on behalf of Pedro Menendez High School senior Marissa Burrier, demanding that she and her classmates be permitted to start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club at the school. The students requested that they be permitted to start a GSA in October. After considering the request for several weeks, Principal Robert Allten denied their request, stating that he would allow an unofficial "tolerance group" which would not be considered an official school club and would not have the privileges other clubs receive.
"The principal's denial of the students' request to start a GSA and his attempt to force the students to change the club's name and deny it official club status is clearly illegal," said Burrier's attorney, NCLR Regional Counsel Karen Doering. "Under the federal Equal Access Act, schools that permit students to form other non-curriculum based clubs must allow students to form GSA's, and must give these GSA's the same status and privileges as other clubs. The law does not permit schools to pick and choose among clubs based on whether the school approves of the club's message. Courts have used this law to protect students' rights to form Bible Clubs and other religious clubs, and they also have held that it clearly protects students' rights to form Gay Straight Alliances." According to the school's website, Mendendez High has several non-curriculum based clubs including the Fellowship of Christian Athletics club, the MHS Dance Team, and the National Thespian Society.
"We just wanted to start a club where all students could feel safe, regardless of their sexual orientation," said Burrier. "We need a place on campus where all kids, gay and straight, can come together in a safe place to talk about how they feel."
"The actions of this principal send a troubling message to all youth in St. Johns County," said Equality Florida media spokesperson Brian Winfield. "Principal Allten is telling these young people that there is something so fundamentally wrong and shameful about accepting others who might be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, that they can't even mention the word "gay" in the name of the club."
Nationally, studies have shown that youth who are or who are perceived to be gay are at higher risk for being teased, bullied, and harassed. As a result of that vulnerability, these youth also are more likely to be depressed and to struggle with suicidal feelings. "GSA's play an incredibly positive role in providing support for LGBT students and in encouraging all students to be accepting and respectful of those who are different," added NCLR attorney Doering. "In addition to violating the law, Principal Allten is preventing the students from taking an important and positive step that will improve the environment at Pedro Menendez High School for all students."
The demand letter asks that Principal Allten grant the students' request to form a GSA within ten days and states that, if he does not do so, NCLR will file a lawsuit on behalf of Burrier and other students.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
Equality Florida is a statewide education and advocacy organization working to secure equality and justice for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.