Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dept of Ed Letter Supports Gay-Straight Alliances

Yesterday, the Department of Education circulated a "Dear Colleague" Letter to remind and apprise elementary and secondary schools of the government's position that schools must provide equal access and support to student clubs formed around shared interest in sexual orientation discrimination, namely, gay-straight alliances (GSAs). The Department's interpretation is not rooted in Title IX, however, whose prohibition on sex discrimination would seemingly not apply to viewpoint discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rather, the Department rooted its interpretation in another law, the Equal Access Act. Congress passed this law in 1984 because it was concerned that schools were not allowing religion-based student groups meet on campus. But it applies to all student groups. As the letter explains,
The general rule, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, is that a public high school that allows at least one noncurricular student group to meet on school grounds during noninstructional time (e.g., lunch, recess, or before or after school) may not deny similar access to other noncurricular student groups, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical, or other subject matters that the groups address.
Of course, a school wishing to deny access to a GSA may choose to have no extracurricular clubs at all, as a Utah school district once did. But the Department of Education's letter urges schools to consider the role of such clubs in fostering the kind of welcoming and supportive atmosphere that can be an antidote to the bullying crisis which has claimed several gay students' lives.