The ACLU of Indiana is suing a high school they say blocked an LGBTQ student group from privileges that other clubs at the school enjoy, like publicizing their meetings or raising funds on school property.
Students at Pendleton Heights High School in central Indiana say that they tried to restart their GSA this past year, a club that is meant to create a safe space for LGBTQ students to socialize and find emotional support. The school’s principal allowed them to meet afterschool but then said that they weren’t an “official” club.
Being an official club would mean that they could talk on the school’s radio station, fundraise on school property, and advertise on the school’s bulletin board. The GSA isn’t even listed in the school’s student handbook.
Now the GSA is suing in federal court, arguing that their First Amendment and equal protection rights are being violated, as well as the Equal Access Act, a 1984 law that requires schools that receive federal funding to provide equal access to all extracurricular activities. The law was originally pushed for by Christian activists who wanted to protect Bible study groups in schools.
“This group aims to create an environment that provides support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Kit Malone of the ACLU of Indiana. “The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated.”
The same high school banned teachers from displaying Pride flags earlier this year. Principal Connie Rickett said that she wanted to make sure that the school was a “welcoming environment for all” and Pride flags will make anti-LGBTQ students feel unwelcome because they are “political paraphernalia.”
School board of trustees president Bill Hutton said that being LGBTQ is a choice and compared LGBTQ people to white supremacists.
“If an LGBTQ+ flag is allowed to be displayed, then any other group would have the same ability,” he said at the time, explaining why the Pride flag was banned. “That could include such flags as supporting white supremacy, which is in direct conflict with LGBTQ+.”
Tai Wells, an out bi student at Pendleton Heights, said that bullying of LGBTQ students was a severe problem at the school and that she knows of several who have attempted or died by suicide.
“It’s already hard dealing with bullying and judgmental kids, and now you can’t even have a flag saying, ‘We support you in the classroom,’” she said.