ACLU Tells High Schools They Must Give Equal Rights to Gay-Straight Alliance Student Clubs

News Release: 
Monday, November 2, 2009

Responding to problems faced by students in several schools, the American Civil Liberties Union is advising school officials statewide that their existing rules for student-organized clubs may discriminate against some student organizations.  In a letter sent to school districts throughout Washington, the ACLU explained that federal law makes it clear that student clubs promoting tolerance for gay students are entitled to the same resources as other clubs.

“Public schools may not discriminate against a student club based on its religious or political views.  Equal rights for Gay-Straight Alliance student clubs is a matter of basic fairness and should not be subject to a majority vote of other students,” said ACLU Legal Program Director Julya Hampton.

Most recently, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Puyallup High School gained full-fledged club status after the ACLU notified the principal that the GSA must be given the same access to resources that other noncurricular clubs have at the school.  As a result, the GSA can now hold assemblies, publicize activities at school, and seek student government funding.

Organized to promote tolerance toward lesbian and gay students at Puyallup High School, the Gay-Straight Alliance has been meeting weekly at the school.  However, the club was not allowed to distribute flyers or to seek funding from the Associated Student Body (ASB) unless the ASB would vote to have the club affiliated with it.

Writing on behalf of high school senior Brian Roetger and other members of the GSA, the ACLU notified the school that GSA’s access to resources cannot be contingent on approval of the ASB.  In a case involving the Bethel School District, the U. S. Court of Appeals ruled last year that under the federal Equal Access Act, noncurricular clubs must be given access to resources equal to that given to ASB-affiliated clubs.  For example, ASB clubs are usually allowed to post notices on school bulletin boards, announce meetings on the school public address system, appear in the yearbook, and conduct fundraising on campus.

The ACLU has responded to similar concerns in other high schools in Washington.  Earlier this year, the student government at Federal Way High School voted down the request of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance to be recognized as an ASB club.  After advocacy by the ACLU on behalf of the club, school officials in March agreed to give the GSA equal access to resources.   At Shelton High School in 1999, the school’s Equality Council gained the right to distribute flyers, announce meetings over the intercom, and meet on school grounds at suitable times after the ACLU contacted school officials.