U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week warned school administrators nationwide that gay-straight alliance groups must be recognized as having the the same legal rights and protections as other student clubs at public secondary schools.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter, Duncan wrote:
“Harassment and bullying are serious problems in our schools, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students are the targets of disproportionate shares of these problems. […]
“Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. […]
“But in spite of the positive effect these groups can have in schools, some such groups have been unlawfully excluded from school grounds, prevented from forming, or denied access to school resources.”
Duncan noted that under the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984, the GSAs are protected under as the law requires that public secondary schools receiving federal funds ensure equal access for student extracurricular groups.
Drafted by Conservative lawmakers to protect those students who wanted to form faith-based clubs and organizations, the act has been cited in numerous legal cases brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the Nation Center For Lesbian Rights in cases where public school districts have denied their students the ability to organize a GSA.
Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, called Duncan’s letter “a clear signal to schools and school districts that they may not discriminate against students who seek to form Gay-Straight Alliances.”
“We are grateful to the Department of Education for supporting students’ rights, attempting to prevent discrimination and affirming the positive contributions Gay-Straight Alliances make to the life of our schools, right alongside other non-curricular clubs,” Byard said in a statement released Tuesday.