Florida Gay-Straight Alliance Makes Progress – But Is the Permission-Slip Rule Legal?

Florida Map on School BlackboardMembers of the School Board in Lake County, Florida, have voted 3-2 to keep middle-school campuses open to extracurricular clubs. Some community members had sought to ban all such clubs at the middle-school level as a way of circumventing a law requiring all publicly funded secondary schools with any extra-curricular clubs to grant equal recognition to gay-straight alliances (GSAs). (In other words, they sought to ban all clubs so they wouldn’t have to recognize a proposed GSA. A recent post examining the proposal to ban all extracurricular clubs is available here.) So the 3-2 vote is good news for supporters of the local GSA, including 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, who has led efforts to establish the group (with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union). The GSA presumably will be allowed to meet under the newly approved rules.

The 3-2 vote, however, is just an initial vote. The School Board will finalize the vote at its next meeting. Despite the victory for the GSA, the GSA’s supporters are rightfully concerned about a provision in the new rules that will require middle-school students to obtain parental permission to join an extra-curricular club. That means that some of the students who would benefit the most from a GSA—students facing an anti-LGBT environment at home—may not be able to join. Only time will tell whether the parental-permission requirement survives. To be legal, the requirement for a parent’s permission must be applied evenhandedly to all extra-curricular clubs. If it turns out that some clubs—like, say, a chess club—are not being subjected to the permission-slip requirement as strictly as the GSA, then the permission-slip policy becomes an illegal form of discrimination. (And you can be sure that the ACLU will be paying close attention.) In the meantime, LGBT Youth Allies congratulates Bayli Silberstien and her supporters for their important progress in ensuring a safer environment for LGBT students, and thanks them for standing up for the right of all students to freely express themselves in their extracurricular work. MK

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Complete list of posts related to the Lake County GSA controversy (updated February 2014):