Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Important Victory for Safe Spaces & Safe Schools

Creating safe spaces for students in our schools became a little bit easier - at least in one district - with a ruling issued yesterday.

In a precedent-setting opinion released on Wednesday, a Florida judge found that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," and that a local school district must allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on school grounds.

Our friends at the ACLU of Florida brought the suit on behalf of Okeechobee High School senior Yasmin Gonzalez, after the principal at her school said the club could not meet on campus.

Judge K. Michael Moore said the school board failed to show that barring the club's "tolerance based message", was "caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."

"Gonzalez, who now attends Indian River Community College, has said she was plagued by discrimination as a lesbian trying to find her way in Okeechobee's small town of conservative values," the Associated Press reported. "One teacher told her homosexuals should die; kids hanging out the bus window would shout, "Are you the one that's gay?"

"You shouldn't have to grow up feeling like you're alone," Gonzalez said when the suit was filed. "It was just terrible. I saw that something was wrong and I'm trying to change it."

As a recent ABC News article pointed out, more and more young kids are coming out while in school, and administrators, and parents, have an important role to play in supporting, protecting and educating the entire community.

Because of her courage and her determination, Gonzalez has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of countless students who can now be assured of a welcoming space in their school. Her heroic steps (and yesterday's ground-breaking court ruling) mark a significant step forward for the LGBT young people who are attending her high school alma mater today.

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