Gay students sue Los Angeles high school
by Eric Johnston
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of gay and lesbian students at a Los Angeles high school Thursday, claiming that school staff members harassed them repeatedly.
The school and the Los Angeles Unified School District have allowed a climate "rife with hostility" toward gay students to exist on campus, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
Catherine Lhamon, an ACLU attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that "school administrators turn blind eyes to the harassment," and that some participate in it.
None of the students represented in the lawsuit was identified by name.
During a news conference at ACLU offices Thursday, one student said school staff treated gay students "like criminals."
One plaintiff, a 17-year-old boy, told how security officers harassed and punished him for kissing another boy.
The kiss was caught on security cameras, and the lawsuit says a security officer replayed the videotape several times for other staff members, including a dean and campus police officers, as they laughed and made comments, according to the Times.
A second plaintiff, a 17-year-old girl, said that a teacher wrote a letter to her parents "outing" her. "This teacher invaded my privacy," she said.
Kevin Reed, the school district's attorney, denied such behavior exists, saying he was "baffled and deeply disappointed that the ACLU chose to follow through with this lawsuit."
Reed said the Los Angeles school district is a national leader in providing a safe environment for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students, noting that the district has protected such students with anti-discrimination policies since 1985.
Elsewhere, The ACLU has come to the defense of a Missouri high school student who was sent home from school twice this month for wearing T-shirts bearing Gay Pride messages.
"Even though nobody complained about my T-shirts, my school told me I couldn't wear them just because someone might get offended," said Brad Mathewson, a junior at Webb City High School.
The ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri called the action "discriminatory" and a violation of Mathewson's First Amendment rights. The boy's T-shirts did not violate the school's dress code, according to the ACLU.
"This school allows its students to freely express their views on gay and lesbian rights -- but only if they're on the anti-gay side of the issue," said ACLU spokesperson Jolie Justus, noting that bumper stickers in favor of Missouri's recently-passed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment are present throughout school's hallways and parking lot.
Webb City is located approximately 125 miles south of Kansas City, Mo.