ACLU Case No. 2010-23
Thanks to a letter from the ACLU, a Greeley high school student will be permitted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at his school, despite officials’ initial reluctance.
Steve Marcantonio just wanted a place to start a conversation. Like hundreds of other high school students in Colorado and across the country, Steve wanted to launch a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at his high school, Union Colony Prep, a public charter school in Greeley, in order to give he and his fellow students a forum in which to discuss issues related to sexual orientation, address concerns about bullying and generally create a safe space in which to talk about these sensitive topics.
Upon learning that school officials were uncomfortable with the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance club, and might vote against allowing it at the next faculty meeting, Steve decided to contact the ACLU.
Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace promptly sent a letter to the Union Colony School Board members, asking them to ensure Union Colony Prep voted to allow the Gay-Straight Alliance, not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because of the overwhelming legal precedent for permitting such clubs. She included a line from Colorado Federal District Judge Richard Matsch, who ruled on a La Junta school’s decision to forbid students from printing and distributing a Christian newsletter.
“A school policy completely preventing students from engaging other students in open discourse on issues they deem important cripples them as contributing citizens. Such restrictions do not advance any legitimate governmental interest. On the contrary, such inhibitions on individual development defeat the very purpose of public education in secondary schools.
Shortly thereafter, the school’s attorney William Bethke replied, acknowledging Steve’s right to start a club, noting:
“The Board will meet on December 18, and we fully expect it will adopt a policy for student clubs. Mr. Marcantonio would be more than welcome to be the very first student making use of these policies to form a student-initiated club at Union Colony.”
The ACLU of Colorado congratulates Steve Marcantonio on his leadership. We also appreciate the willingness of Union Colony’s principal and board members to accept our input and move promptly to avoid infringing on any student’s rights. As Judge Matsch explained, enabling students to conduct open and honest dialogue about challenging issues is the very essence of public education. It’s also the heart of the First Amendment. We hope that the new Gay-Straight Alliance club marks the beginning of an institution at Union Colony Prep.
A whopping 13.4% of LGBTQ high school students who report frequent verbal harassment plan on not attending college, and 20% of all currently enrolled college students report fearing for their physical safety due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. In response, many universities are taking steps to fight back for their most vulnerable students. To learn more, read this helpful guide to college for LGBTQ students from AffordableColleges.com.
Rebecca Wallace , ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney
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