California High School Opens Doors to Gay-Straight Alliance

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The new school year begins Thursday in Orange County, California, and with it comes a victory - sort of - for students who started a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at one of the local high schools.

The Orange Unified School District is expected Thursday night to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit by agreeing to let the GSA meet at El Modena High School. The settlement agreement will allow the gay-straight club the same access to school facilities that other campus clubs enjoy.

Myron Quon, a lawyer representing the students involved in the Gay-Straight Alliance, said the board's decision will be a relief for the students involved.

"We are happy to get past litigation and allow these kids to be regular school students," Quon said. "That is what this is all about. There is nothing special about this club."

The school board is also expected to set down some conditions for club meetings, specifically that there not be "any discussion of sexual activity." Parents will also be given the opportunity to fill out forms prohibiting their children from joining clubs they find inappropriate.

Quon said the specification will not affect the GSA because the club never set out to discuss sexual activity, only sexual orientation.

"The rule prohibiting discussion of sex in all clubs is fine because that's never been what the GSA is about," Quon said. "The GSA has always been talking about anti-discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, trying to create a safe space."

Quon went on to say that school officials misunderstood what the mission of the GSA involved.

"It is not a sex club. We are here to talk about gay kids, straight kids perceived to be gay and the harassment they face," Quon said. "They also talk about what it is like to be gay and coming out to parents, family and friends, stuff like that. The district accused them of being something they are not."

Judy Frutig, spokesperson for the Orange Unified School District, said the main reason the school board had previously rejected the GSA is because it did not feel the club was appropriate for high-school aged children.

"The school asked the lawyers and the students to change the name of the club to the 'Tolerance Club' or the 'Student Alliance Club', but they refused," Frutig said. "The school also asked them to include in their mission statement a sentence that said sexual activity would not be discussed during club meetings. That [rule] is not new."

In fact, the rule is a state law that includes every high school in California. Only now, in Orange County, is the prohibition being specified in the extracurricular code.

"The education code that governs every school district that operates in California says that sex activity cannot be discussed on campus unless it is within the curriculum," Frutig said. "[Sexual activity] cannot be discussed on campus unless it is something like sex education, which is taught by a professional."

In December, the Orange County school board unanimously rejected the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School, prompting a federal lawsuit by two students who wanted to start a support club for themselves and other homosexual students.
Lawyers representing the students said public schools that accept federal money cannot exclude some extra-curricular clubs if they allow others.

In February, a federal court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the Orange Unified School District, allowing the gay-straight club to meet pending the outcome of the federal lawsuit - the one the school district is now settling.

Frutig reported that at the end of the 1999-2000 school year, only 10 of the original 60 members of the GSA remained in the club. El Modena High School has an enrollment of 1,900.