Federal judge rules that Florida high school must allow Gay-Straight Alliance

In yet another judicial decision upholding the rights of students to form and participate in Gay-Straight Alliances, a federal judge ruled Tuesday night that Okeechobee High School in Florida must allow a GSA the same access it allows other non-curricular clubs.

The ruling also stated that GSAs do not interfere with abstinence-only education and that schools must take into account the well being of non-heterosexual students.

“We applaud this decision rooted in judicial precedent for recognizing not just the legal right of students to form GSAs, but also that schools and students will benefit by having GSAs on campus,” said GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings. “While it is important to note the courage of the students who came forward to claim their legal right to work to make their school safer, the real victors are all the students at Okeechobee High School.”

Okeechobee High School had sought to mischaracterize the purpose of the GSA. Judge K. Michael Moore reaffirmed his earlier ruling that GSAs are not sex-based clubs, but clubs designed to foster tolerance on school campuses.

About 4,000 GSAs are currently registered with GLSEN, including 155 in Florida.

A 2007 GLSEN research brief on the benefits of GSAs found that students in schools with GSAs are less likely to hear homophobic remarks in school on a daily basis than students in schools without a GSA (57% compared to 75%).

The report’s major findings:

  • The presence of GSAs may help to make schools safer for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students by sending a message that biased language and harassment will not be tolerated.
  • Having a GSA may also make school more accessible to LGBT students by contributing to a more positive school environment.
  • GSAs may help LGBT students to identify supportive school staff, which has been shown to have a positive impact on their academic achievement and experiences in school.
  • Most students lack access to GSAs or other student clubs that provide support and address issues specific to LGBT students and their allies.

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