Monday, May 9, 2011

Another GSA is Born

Post by GLAD Attorney Vickie L. Henry

I recently received the exciting news that we had helped a high school student and his friends in Maine form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). I would have been happy to sue to found a GSA but it was just as satisfying to persuade the school to do the right thing because it was right for the school. Indeed, GLAD does a lot of work behind the scenes.

GSAs are a fun "case" for GLAD because the law is so good. If requested, just about every school has to permit a GSA. But that does not always mean school officials will quickly or easily approve a GSA. That's where we enter, behind the scenes or publicly as counsel for the students.

Generally speaking (lawyer-speak meaning there are limited exceptions), the Equal Access Act requires a public high school that allows any non-curriculum student group to meet on school grounds to also allow other student groups the same access to the school, including a GSA.

School officials have gotten creative across the country to avoid a GSA but the law is so broad that in nearly every case, the courts have supported the GSA. Some school officials try to stall a GSA, particularly if a senior is involved, because maybe the request will graduate with the senior. So having a younger proponent is helpful. Others try to change the name of the group, which is not permissible. Still others have actually eliminated all non-curriculum groups but that failed - you can just found a curriculum-related club to discuss a subject - say history - from an LGBTQ perspective. Still others have objected with a claim that a GSA would be disruptive. But the law protects the right to form a GSA as long as the GSA itself (versus those who don't like the idea of a GSA) is not causing the disruption.

I want to give a big shout out to the parent helping her child in this case. She went toe-to-toe with the school addressing its concerns and demonstrated - politely but relentlessly - that a GSA would be good for her child and for the school.

One more GSA approved. Today we have one more community where high school kids have an oasis of acceptance and support. Raise your glass (non-alcoholic of course; they're minors).


Suzanne said...

This is so refreshing to hear!! I am new to a progressive school and we started a GSA for the high school. The school also contains a middle school and several students came forward requesting a middle school GSA. We did start one, but there is a lot of resistance to it. We are not able to recruit...instead students must request to join. In addition,there is a question of whether students need permission from home and staff feel worried about this. I would love to know if middle school GSAs have the same rights as high school!

Suzanne, CT

GLAD said...

The Equal Access Act applies to public secondary schools and in the statute the definition of what is a secondary school is left up to each state to determine. Some states define secondary schools to mean only high schools and some include junior high schools and middle schools as well. You can contact the Connecticut State Department of Education for a determination of what the state of Connecticut classifies as a secondary school.