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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 22, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 12
Unexpected bullies - California LGBT students allege mistreatment by teachers, administrators
Section One
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Unexpected bullies - California LGBT students allege mistreatment by teachers, administrators

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the law firm of Nixon Peabody LLP have sent a letter to administrators at Sultana High School and the Hesperia Unified School District in San Bernardino County demanding that school officials stop censoring the speech and activities of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) school club, stop discriminating against LBGTQ students in the school, and allow students to wear gender non-conforming clothing to the upcoming prom.

The March 18 letter outlines several instances where teachers and administrators flouted the law by refusing to approve the GSA's events about LGBTQ issues, censoring words like 'Gay,' 'Lesbian,' 'Bisexual,' and 'Queer' - and even the club's full name - from its announcements and posters, and not listing it on the official roster of school clubs.

Students reported numerous incidents of being verbally harassed by teachers - including teachers repeatedly using 'Gay' as an insult in the classroom. In one example cited in the letter, when a teenage boy mentioned that he did not have a date on Valentine's Day, his teacher remarked, 'Because you're Gay and nobody wants to be with you.'

INSTITUTIONAL BIGOTRY
'No LGBTQ student in California should ever have to suffer discrimination or bullying, let alone endure harassing comments and censorship from the very teachers and administrators charged with protecting them,' said Melissa Goodman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU/SC. 'We know there are many good, devoted teachers in school districts throughout the state who put a stop to bullying. Sadly, at Sultana High School, it is the adults in charge who are harming the school's LGBTQ students and allowing a pervasive anti-LGBTQ climate to fester. All of Sultana's students deserve better.'

Sultana High School will hold its prom on April 13. Some female students want to wear tuxedos and one male student wants to wear heels with his tuxedo, but the school's dress code requires traditional gender-conforming dress. Forcing students to dress according to traditional gender norms violates their rights to free expression, say the activists, and constitutes sex and gender discrimination prohibited by state and federal law.

'All students should feel safe and free to be themselves at school,' said Kyle Bodda, Sultana GSA president. 'It's hard to learn or feel comfortable in a space where teachers make degrading comments about LGBTQ people. The GSA just wants to make the school more welcoming for all students. I'm hopeful the administration does the right thing and create a safe environment where we can be ourselves without fear of being harassed.'

BREAKING THE LAW
'School personnel are obligated to ensure a safe, supportive, and nondiscriminatory educational environment for all students, including those who identify as or are perceived to be LGBTQ,' said Seth Levy, partner at Nixon Peabody LLP. 'They are in clear violation of the law and their ethical obligations as educators when they themselves participate in discriminating against these students. The hostile climate for LGBTQ students and their allies at Sultana High School must be eliminated. We are hopeful that the educators and other personnel in the school district will take immediate action to address these issues, not just to bring Sultana High School into compliance with the law but because all students deserve equal access to education.'

The letter demands that the school and district take immediate steps to stop unlawful conduct, promise prompt action to improve the school climate for LGBTQ and gender non-conforming students, and stop censoring the GSA, by March 25.

The letter can be seen here: www.aclu-sc.org/sultana-letter/.

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