Lesbian teens sue after blocked from entering pep rally as same-sex couple


MINNEAPOLIS — Two lesbian teens are suing Champlin Park High School and the state’s largest school district for preventing them from participating as a same-sex couple at an upcoming school assembly.

Earlier this month, students elected Desiree “Dez” Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, both 18-year-old seniors, as part of the school’s “Snow Days Pep Fest Royalty Court,” but school officials have declined to allow the teens to walk in together because they did not want to offend the other students.

Members of the “court” are traditionally paired into male-female couples and march through the field house to a stage while an announcer said a few facts about each couple. The teens said they were uncomfortable being paired with a male student for the procession.

The suit alleges that, in an effort to prevent them from participating as a same-sex couple, the school told Desiree and Sarah that it would cancel a part of the festivities set for Monday afternoon, reports KSTP-TV.

“There was a feeling that some students would not be comfortable with the girls walking in as a couple so the administration wanted to find a way to change the ceremony so that everyone felt comfortable and all students felt honored,” said Mary Olson, spokeswoman for the school district.

Olson said the decision was made out of respect for the entire student body.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon on the student’s behalf, and names the Anoka-Hennepin school district as a defendant.

“Preventing lesbian student couples from participating in school dances and assemblies on an equal basis with other couples violates their First Amendment right to express their affection for each other, and also violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“Dez and Sarah were chosen by their peers as ‘royalty’ for the Snow Days Pep Fest and Coronation, and Champlin Park High School’s refusal to accept them as a couple shows that the school administration’s attitudes lag far behind those of the students they serve.”

The Minnesota Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or sexual orientation.

“We are disappointed that the school and school district will not simply grant these two students the same rights as every other student, as they are due under both state and federal law,” said Sam Wolfe, lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Anoka-Hennepin school district has been in the headlines previously for its handling of issues involving LGBT students. Six students have committed suicide in the district since the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, and advocacy groups have linked some of the deaths to the bullying of gay students.

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