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Gay-Straight Alliance students sitting in front of a microphone

From left to right, Levi Smithson-Johnston, Amber Stanford, and Kyle Bodda, members of the Sultana High School Gay Straight Alliance, are working with the ACLU to fight what it says is discrimination at the hands of teachers and administrators. Photo by ACLU of Southern California.

Teachers and administrators at Sultana High School in San Bernardino County discriminate against gay students by censoring the gay student club, making derogatory remarks about gay people, and imposing gender stereotypes by allegedly forbidding girls from wearing tuxedos to the prom, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California charged on Monday.

In an 11-page letter to Hesperia Unified School District Interim Superintendent David McLaughlin, the ACLU and the law firm Nixon Peabody alleged that Sultana High School is a hostile, anti-gay environment where some teachers and administrators make harassing remarks such as “that’s so gay” and “the gays are the real bullies,” while verbal and written complaints about teacher remarks often are ignored by administrators.

The ACLU also charged that officials at Sultana High School have suppressed the speech of the Gay Straight Alliance by censoring its flyers and announcements, rejecting its campaign to discuss homophobia and bullying, and treating the club differently than other clubs.

As for the upcoming April 13 school prom, a school administrator allegedly informed students that girls were to wear dresses and boys were to wear slacks and button-up shirts to prom, or they would not be allowed on the bus for the event, according to the ACLU. A number of female GSA members wish to wear tuxedos to prom and a male GSA member would like to wear a tuxedo and heels, the letter stated.

In a statement posted on the district webpage, McLaughlin called the allegations “deeply concerning” and said he will “personally oversee” an examination of the charges.

“While the ACLU letter focuses specifically on the rights of gay and lesbian students, I see it as a moral imperative to reinforce the current efforts in place regarding anti-bullying and tolerance throughout the district,” McLaughlin wrote.

He continued, “Please be assured that as the District and its lawyers examine the specifics of the ACLU letter, I will personally oversee the review of all policies and practices that strive to ensure that all staff and students can attend school in a safe, welcoming and nurturing environment.”

The ACLU letter asked for a response from the district by March 25 to demands that included allowing students to wear gender-nonconforming attire to the school prom; allowing the Gay Straight Alliance to use its full name, rather than the initials GSA, as well as the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer” in its announcements; and instructing staff to refrain from making discriminatory comments about gay people in the school environment.

Legal action against the district is dependent upon the district response to the demands, the ACLU said. The organization typically warns agencies of impending litigation to give them time to address their concerns.


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