Judge Rules El Modena High Gay-Straight Alliance Must Be Allowed to Meet

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"Breathtaking" order paves way for equal access while case proceeds
February 4, 2000

(SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA, Friday, February 4, 2000) — U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter issued a preliminary injunction today, ordering the Orange Unified School District to allow the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School to meet on school grounds while their case proceeds.

“We are delighted,” said Lambda Supervising Attorney Jon W. Davidson. “Not only did Judge Carter rule that the students must be allowed to meet under the federal Equal Access Act, he also emphasized that El Modena High’s Gay-Straight Alliance club is in the public interest.”

Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation, said, “These students have been courageous in their fight for simple justice. Today’s decision will help them grow up believing in America’s promise -- that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law.”

People For the American Way Foundation, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Irell & Manella, LLP, represent students and the club, who challenged school officials’ refusal to let them use school facilities like the other 38 clubs that currently meet on campus.

The judge’s ruling cited the high incidence of anti-gay hate crimes and the disproportionate rate of suicide among lesbian and gay teenagers, saying in his order, “This injunction therefore is not just about the student pursuit of ideas and tolerance for diverse viewpoints. As any concerned parent would understand, this case may involve the protection of life itself.”

Today’s ruling lets the club -- which more than 50 students have expressed interest in joining -- meet freely while the lawsuit continues. Significantly, the judge rejected the school board’s argument that the club was initiated by outside adults.

Judge Carter heard argument last month at a hearing in which the club’s founders, 15-year-old Anthony Colín and 16-year-old Heather Zetin, testified that they wanted a safe place to talk about what it was like to be a gay teenager and how to deal with harassment in school, and emphasized that adults had not influenced or controlled their efforts.

“These brave students are trying to build support and respect among their classmates,” Jon Davidson said as the students’ mothers left the courthouse with police protection standing by.

The Orange Unified School Board applied for a stay of the ruling pending their appeal, which the judge promised to consider by the end of the day. The school board plans to hold a closed-door emergency meeting at 4:30 p.m. today; the board is likely to consider banning all non-curricular clubs in order to prevent the Gay-Straight Alliance club from meeting.

“With this case, the students have been forced to teach a big lesson to the very school officials who should be helping them protect their learning environment. Thanks to Judge Carter’s breathtaking ruling, that environment will be safer and fairer soon,” said Kendra Huard, acting director of People For the American Way Foundation’s California office.

Judge Carter set a status conference in the case for March 27, and said the trial will commence during summer vacation.

(Anthony Colín, et al. v. Orange Unified School District, No. SA CV 99-1461)

CONTACT: PFAWF – Margot Friedman 202-467-4999, or Kendra Huard 310-478-6657 or 310-617-6718(cell); Lambda – T.J. Tu 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1971 (pager), or Jon Davidson 323-937-2728, ext. 228


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