ACLU threatens to sue Corpus Christi school district for refusing to allow Gay Straight Alliance

The ACLU is demanding that Flour Bluff ISD officials allow a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance at Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi or face legal action.

The principal of Flour Bluff High School has refused to allow the GSA proposed by student Nikki Peet, and the district superintendent has threatened to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

The ACLU, which is representing Peet, says the district is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act because it has allowed other non-curricular clubs — including the chess club; the Key Club; the Family, Careers, Community Leaders of America; and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — to meet on campus.

“Because Flour Bluff High has opened the door to non-curricular clubs on campus, it is required by law to permit the GSA club,” the ACLU writes in its letter dated today.

The ACLU also maintains that it’s illegal for the district to eliminate all non-curricular clubs to avoid allowing the GSA.

“Recently, a federal court in Mississippi held that when the school district canceled the prom in response to a student’s request to bring a same-sex date, the district violated the student’s First Amendment rights,” the ACLU said. “The proposed action by the District here is no different than the cancellation of the prom that the court held in McMillen to be unconstitutional.”

The ACLU gives the district until March 9 to respond.

“If you refuse to comply with your obligations under the EAA and the First Amendment, we will take whatever steps necessary to protect the rights of our client, Ms. Peet,” the letter states.

Read the ACLU’s letter here.

As we reported earlier, a protest is planned outside Flour Bluff High School on Friday.

—  John Wright

Constance McMillen On Teen Suicide And Bullying; Is Voted One Of Glamour Magazine’s ‘Women Of The Year’

Constance McMillen speaks to the AP about teen suicide and also reveals that she was never a victim of bullying until after she fought her school district's decision to prohibit her form bringing her girlfriend to the prom.

Cm McMillen, 18, said she became emotional after reading about the suicides of 13-year-old Seth Walsh, of California, who hanged himself outside his home after enduring taunts from classmates, and of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman who killed himself after his sexual encounter was secretly streamed online.

"I read it on Facebook. I was so upset about this that I could not sleep," McMillen said. "I knew it had to be terrible for them to choose death as a way to escape what they were living in."

McMillen said she has had her own suicidal thoughts. "But I never really considered it to the point where I almost did it," she said. "Everybody thinks about it when times get hard."

Growing up in the small town of Fulton, Miss., McMillen said she wasn't bullied until school officials canceled the prom rather than allow McMillen and her girlfriend to attend as a couple. "I went through a lot of harassment and bullying after the lawsuit, and I realized how bad it felt being in that position," she said.

McMillen has also been named one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year" for 2010. In that article, Melissa Etheridge expressed her own pride for McMillen: “She stood up and said, ‘This is who I am.’ When someone does that, it changes the world. It gives hope.”


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Constance McMillen in heady company as a Glamour Women of the Year honoree

Constance McMillen: Woman of the Year

A year ago, Constance McMillen was just another Mississippi teenager looking forward to her senior year in high school. Then came the spring and prom season. And officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School told Constance she couldn’t take her girlfriend as her date to the prom.

Most teens — especially those in small towns and rural areas — would have just let it go. Hell, most LGBT teens in areas like that wouldn’t have even brought up the subject in the first place. I mean, small towns and rural areas — especially in Mississippi — tend not to be thought of as bastions of tolerance and acceptance, and it takes more courage than most grown people have to be willing to take a stand like that when you know you are making yourself a target.

But obviously, Constance McMillen is not most teens. And obviously, she has courage to spare. Because she refused to just sit there and take the discrimination and bigotry. She fought back. And she ended up winning the right to take her girlfriend to the prom and she won $35,000 from the school district, to boot — not to mention that she also became a national hero of the LGBT equality movement.

Constance has gotten a lot of awards and recognition and met a lot of celebrities in the months since she first garnered national attention with her fight. But next Monday, Nov. 8, she will find herself in some truly heady company when she heads to Carnegie Hall in New York City to accept a Glamour magazine Women of the Year Award. Just look at the folks with whom Constance is being honored: Grammy Award-winning pop star Fergie, Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts, designer Donatella Versace, singer-actress-icon-goddess Cher (who will be honored with a lifetime achievement award), Queen Rania of Jordan and sports superstars Lindsey Vonn, Mia Hamm and Lisa Leslie.

Katie Spotz, the 22-year-old who rowed solo across the Atlantic to raise awareness for the global need for clean drinking water, OB-gyn Dr. Hawa Awi and her daughters who have faced down militants and threats to their lives to provide food and care for some 90,000 displaces Somali refugees on their property near Mogadishu, and worldwide female heads of states — including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Dalia Grybauskaitė of Lithuania, Prime Minister Iveta Radičovó of Slovakia, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago, and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor of Croatia — are also among the honorees.

Can you say, “Wow”?

Take a minute to think about the accomplishments of the women named in the list above. Then think about Constance McMillen and what she has accomplished. I think it is amazing — and fantastic — that Glamour magazine is putting an 18-year-old lesbian who stood up for her right to take her girlfriend to the prom in the company of these other outstanding women who have done their part to change the world and make it a better place.

—  admin

Miss. lesbian student sues over rejected tux photo

SHELIA BYRD  |  Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Another teenage lesbian is suing a rural Mississippi school district, this time over a policy banning young women from wearing tuxedos in senior yearbook portraits.

Ceara Sturgis’ dispute with the central Mississippi Copiah County School District started in 2009, well before a student in another Mississippi school district, Constance McMillen, found national attention in her fight to wear a tuxedo and take a same-sex date to prom.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit for Sturgis, claiming the Copiah County district discriminated against her on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were kept out of her senior yearbook.

The ACLU first contacted the district in October 2009 about the issue, but officials said they would adhere to a school policy. By the time Wesson Attendance Center yearbooks were released this spring, school officials had made clear Sturgis’ photo in a tuxedo wouldn’t be included. But Sturgis was surprised to see even her name was left out of the senior section.

“I guess in the back of my mind I knew that was going to happen, but I did have a little hope. I cried. I put my head down and put my hand over my face,” Sturgis said Tuesday.

The suit challenges the district’s policy allowing male students, but not female students, to wear a tux for senior portraits. The suit alleges a violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

Sturgis, who has worn masculine clothing since ninth grade and began classes at Mississippi State University on Wednesday, Aug. 18, said she felt as if she was being punished “just for being who I am.”

District Superintendent Rickey Clopton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Sturgis graduated with a 3.9 grade point average and participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including band and soccer, her attorneys said.

“Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance,” Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project said in a statement Tuesday.

“It’s unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people.”

The ACLU attorney also represented McMillen, who drew inspiration from Sturgis in challenging Itawamba County school officials about McMillen’s plans for prom this year.

“I inspired her to do what she did and now we are friends,” Sturgis said.

But Sturgis didn’t face the same hostility as McMillen. Sturgis said her classmates and teachers were supportive, but she hopes hoping the suit will help other gay teenagers who feel they must conceal their gender identity.

“There are students who are hiding it their sexuality,” Sturgis said. “They have come up to me and told me they are. I had already decided what I was going to do, but it just took a little while.”

While she finished her senior year, Sturgis was living last fall with her grandparents in Wesson, a town of about 1,700 founded during the Civil War and 45 miles south of Jackson.

The students took their yearbook portraits at a studio and Sturgis tried on one of the “drapes” that females students are required to wear.

“The thought of a portrait of her in the ‘feminine’ clothing as a representation of her senior year embarrassed her, and she began crying,” the lawsuit states.

Sturgis later put on the tuxedo and was photographed.

School officials informed Sturgis’ mother, Veronica Rodriguez, early in the school year that the tuxedo photograph wouldn’t be allowed, according to the suit. At the time, Clopton said federal court decisions supported the school’s policy.

The lawsuit names the school district, superintendent Clopton and school principal Ronald Greer. It seeks unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.

The filing comes weeks after McMillen reached a settlement in her federal lawsuit against the Itawamba County School District.

The north Mississippi district had canceled its prom rather than allow McMillen attend with her girlfriend. The district agreed to pay $35,000 and follow a nondiscrimination policy as part of the settlement, though it argued such a policy was already in place

—  John Wright

More Miss. homophobia: ACLU sues school for barring tux-wearing girl’s photo from yearbook

Earlier this year, the ACLU stepped in when a teenage lesbian in Mississippi was told by her school that she couldn’t attend prom with her girlfriend, and the Itawamba County School District eventually agreed to shell out $35,000 to settle the lawsuit brought by Constance McMillen.

Now the ACLU has filed suit against another Mississippi school that refused to include a female student’s name and senior photo in the yearbook because she was wearing a tuxedo. The lawsuit claims Wesson Attendance Center unfairly discriminated against Ceara Sturgis based on her sex and unfair gender stereotypes.

Sturgis attended Wesson from kindergarten through 12th grade. She was an honor student and a member of several sports teams at the school. A press release from the ACLU says nothing about Sturgis’ sexual orientation, but does say that she prefers to wear “clothing that is traditionally associated with boys” both at home and at school.

According to the ACLU press release, Sturgis at first tried to wear the “drape” used in girls’ senior photos to make it look like they are wearing a dress or a blouse, but it made her extremely uncomfortable. So the student got her mother to request that she be allowed to wear a tuxedo for the portrait. And the photographer agreed.

It wasn’t until after the whole picture-taking process was all said and done that the school principal told Sturgis he wouldn’t let the photo be published in the yearbook.

According to Bear Atwood, interim legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi, the school’s actions violate Title IX, which bans discrimination based on gender and gender stereotypes in public education. Plus, he said, they were just plain old “mean-spirited.”

—  admin