Obama Administration to Public Schools: Gay Clubs Have Equal Right to Form on Campus

By Penny Starr | June 8, 2011 | 3:59 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the “Federal LGBT Youth Summit” on Tuesday by video, stating that his Department was sending a letter to school districts detailing the policies and laws available to ensure that homosexual student groups can form and function on public school campuses. LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

This first-ever “Federal LGBT Youth Summit” was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and held at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Monday and Tuesday.

“My commitment to LGBT students is unequivocal and it goes back to when I first supported a charter school for LGBT students in Chicago,” Duncan said in the video. “Our Department here has taken concrete steps to protect LGBT students.”

“I’m pleased to announce we are also releasing a new ‘Dear Colleague’ letter” to be sent to the public schools, said Duncan. “It clarifies the rights of students to form clubs, such as gay-straight alliances, under the Equal Access Act. This letter details relevant case law and provides resources for schools and for districts looking to develop or revise their Equal Access policies.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

The Equal Access Act is a law passed by Congress in 1984, which provides equal access for students to extracurricular clubs and activities.

“Schools must treat all student-initiated clubs equally, including those of LGBT students,” Duncan said. Earlier in the video, Duncan noted that the ‘Dear Colleague’ letters are issued by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

“Sorry I can’t be with you today but I’m absolutely thrilled that Capitol Pride Week is being kicked off with such an important and historic event,” Duncan also said in the video. “We seek to promote a new and unprecedented level of commitment in protecting LGBT students. Thank you for your courageous leadership on this critically important issue

In the less than 4-minute video, Duncan ticked off the actions his agency has taken on behalf of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender youth, including extending federal Title IX protections to cover sexual orientation and being the first federal agency to include “gender identity” in its equal employment opportunities guidelines.

Kevin Jennings, the founder of the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and the Obama administration’s safe schools czar until the end of this week, introduced Duncan as a boss who does the “right thing” for kids.

Kevin Jennings, assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“When Arne knows it’s the right thing to do for kids – every time I brought up an idea to him like that, his response always has been, ‘Just do it,’” Jennings said.

Jennings said Duncan has been an advocate for LGBT youth dating back to his days as CEO for Chicago Public Schools when he supported the formation of a charter school for young people who had been bullied, mostly for their sexual orientation.

Duncan also announced at the summit that in July the Department of Education would be holding the first “training” session for promoting college completion for LGBT youth.