Friday, May 31, 2013

Around The Nation

Federal judge rules for Florida Lesbian teen who wants to form gay-straight club
U.S. District Court courtroom,  Ocala, Florida  * File Photo
OCALA, FL -- On Thursday U.S. District Judge Anne Conway issued a final order in the case of 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein of Leesburg, Florida who brought a lawsuit against the School Board of Lake County, Florida for repeatedly thwarting her efforts to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Carver Middle School. The final order reinforces a consent decree entered by the parties in the case on the day after the lawsuit was filed.
The ACLU contended in its lawsuit that the School Board violated Bayli's 1st and 14th Amendment rights as well as a federal law prohibiting schools from discriminating against student clubs by ignoring her club application — effectively denying it.
Lake County Schools Superintendent Susan Moxley temporarily allowed the club to meet until school ends next week as part of a court agreement the day after the ACLU filed suit. Thursday's final order upholds that agreement and calls for the district to pay Bayli $1 for nominal damages and pay the $14,000 bill for legal fees.
“I am really happy that we were finally able to meet and that this is finally over,” stated Silberstein, an 8th grader at the school. 
“My friends and I didn’t want to have the school year end without being able to do something to make school safer. I’m really grateful for all the support I’ve gotten and hope this helps other kids see that what we’re doing is something worth fighting for.”
GSAs are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies that advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against all students.  As a result of the lawsuit, the Carver Middle School GSA has been able to meet regularly throughout the final weeks of the school year.
“We are very happy for Bayli and her family that this lawsuit has come to a close,” stated Daniel Tilley, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida. 
“Although it should have happened more than a year ago, we are pleased that the School District has acknowledged its obligation under clearly established federal law to allow the GSA to meet. 
Because of the GSA, Carver Middle School will become a safer and more welcoming place for all students. Although the School Board is continuing its intensified scrutiny of club policy due to the GSA, we look forward to ensuring that the Carver Middle School GSA will remain an official student club during the next school year and the years after that.”
Bayli, meanwhile, says she plans on starting a gay-straight club at Leesburg High School, where she starts as a freshman next school year. She is not expecting much opposition.
"I know a lot more people there are accepting at the high school," she said. "That's one of the reasons we need it at the middle school."
A copy of the final order entered is available here.