ACLU files suit to protect LGBTQ student rights

ACLU files suit to protect LGBTQ student rights

(Ind.) Following sweeping wins by Democrats to retake control of the House of Representatives as well as a number of state houses, the American Civil Liberties Union moved last week against an Indiana school district over the civil rights of LGBTQ students.

The suit is in response to administrators at Leo High School allegedly refusing a student request to rename a club organized to help provide a safe and supportive environment for LQBTQ students.

The club, known as the Leo Pride Alliance, would have been recast as “Leo GSA,” short of Leo gay-straight alliance.

Lawyers representing the students suggested that school officials wanted to retain the word ‘Pride,’ because it references the school’s motto: “Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Diligence and Excellence.”

The move, attorneys said, undermines student rights.

“Students at Leo Junior/Senior High School may participate in extracurricular clubs recognized by the school,” said ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk in a statement. “By creating additional hurdles for the Leo Pride Alliance, and censoring the group’s name, the school is infringing on these students’ rights.”

The suit comes as one of the Trump administration’s biggest foes of LGBTQ rights–former Attorney General Jeff Sessions–was pushed from office as a result of the blue wave, which also saw Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly retain a state law prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in places providing public accommodations.

The Indiana lawsuit is an outgrowth of a newly-established effort in Indiana to defend and advance the rights of LGBTQ citizens in the state. ACLU officials cited the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by then governor of Indiana, Mike Pence–now the Vice President.

The law provides assurances that the government cannot infringe on a person’s ability to practice their religious beliefs with compelling reasons. Its adoption preceded the controversial ruling made earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the right of a baker not to provide a cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado based on his religious beliefs.

The defense of high school students in Allen County, Indiana is based on the premise that school officials are “censoring” the name change.

“This group aims to create an environment that provides social, emotional and educational support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU of Indiana said in a statement. “The differential treatment aimed at Leo Pride Alliance by administrators is unwarranted.”

The ACLU filed its lawsuit against East Allen County Schools alleging violation of the Equal Access Act, First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

A spokeswoman for the district said they are still investigating the claims.

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