ACLU works with students to sue Indiana high school over unfair treatment of LGBTQ group

ACLU works with students to sue Indiana high school over unfair treatment of LGBTQ group

Given that we’re still surviving a global pandemic, one would assume that most school-related coverage would center around the virus. Are teachers with compromised immune systems being protected? What about students who are not yet old enough to get vaccinated? How about the large-scale supply chain issues impacting school breakfast and lunches? Not to mention the developmental and emotional changes and challenges for students who are adjusting to either being back in the classroom in person or still doing virtual learning. It’s a lot, for all sides of the equation.

Somehow, however, a number of school districts have decided to press down on the presence of LGBTQ+ Pride flags, lessons, and even openly LGBTQ+ teachers. Most recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of students who are part of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at a high school in Indiana, as reported by local outlet WHTR. Why? Students say it’s been banned from promoting its meetings, and that its free speech rights are being violated. 

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, Sept. 22, argues that the GSA provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ studies and allies. This environment allows students to meet, get support, spend time together, and generally build community and camaraderie. Makes sense. The lawsuit, however, alleges that Pendleton Heights High School in Pendleton, Indiana, has stopped the group from advertising its existence in a number of ways, which makes it harder for students to actually find it.

The GSA is not allowed to advertise anywhere on school property, and in fact, can’t even meet on school property. It’s also not allowed to fundraise, which is something many school activities and sports do to afford things like trips, snacks, speakers, and the like. So students can’t put up flyers on a school bulletin board, for example, or ask that meetings be mentioned during morning announcements. In addition to students not knowing the club exists, it’s also easy to believe this makes members feel “othered” from their peers, whose activities do get explicit support from the administration.

Now, how and why is the GSA being left in the shadows? Technically, the high school doesn’t officially recognize the GSA as an official club. It doesn’t even, for example, include it in its student handbook’s list of activities. Who has the authority to designate which groups are official? The school’s principal; in this case, Principal Connie Rickert. 

If her name sounds even vaguely familiar, it’s possibly because this isn’t the first time the school has made headlines when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusivity (or rather, lack thereof). As reported by LGBTQ Nation, the same high school met serious criticism when it banned teachers from hanging Pride flags in classrooms earlier this year. At the time, Rickett described the flags as “political paraphernalia” and argued that the presence of Pride flags could make anti-LGBTQ students feel unwelcome. Three teachers at the time had to remove their Pride flags.

And the hope now? The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, is asking the court to make the district allow the GSA to have “the same access to school facilities and avenues of communication, including fundraising opportunities, provided to curricular and official clubs.”

As Daily Kos covered recently when covering a Utah school district’s ban on Pride flags, LGBTQ+ identities are not political. Hanging a Pride flag (or, for instance, a Black Lives Matter flag) does not connect you to or represent a particular political party or candidate. These flags represent inclusion, solidarity, and welcome. If anything, it’s the folks who are against these flags who are viewing them as a political marker, not the people who are actually represented by them. 

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