Lesbian Teen Sues School District for Bias
[BANNING, CA] - A 15-year-old high school student is suing her former Banning, Calif., school district for civil rights violations after she was removed from a gym class by a teacher because she is a lesbian.
Ashly Massey says in March 2001 a fellow eighth-grader turned to her in gym class and asked her if she was gay. Before she could answer another student said, "She's a lesbian," which set off a series of events that led to Massey and her mother filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on Tuesday.
A physical education teacher, Karen Gill, allegedly told Massey to keep the information to herself, and had her removed from the class without explanation. For two weeks after, instead of going to gym class, she was instructed to report to the principal's office for the duration of the class. Massey was not told why she was removed or whether she was being punished.
Massey's suit names the Banning Unified School District, the superintendent, the principal and former vice principal, as well as Gill. The suit demands changes in the district's harassment policies and also seeks financial restitution. The student says the school's behavior caused problems between her and other classmates and created an atmosphere of harassment.
The suit also marks the first time someone has filed under California's Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act, which added actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity to the state education code's existing nondiscrimination policy.
The law, which came into effect in 2000, sets up a procedure for LGBT students and school employees to file a complaint with the school system and with the state.
It also allows for a suit like Massey's.
The president of the Banning school board, Randy Patterson, said the board felt badly for Massey. "Nothing like this has happened before," he told the Los Angeles Times. "No one should be made uncomfortable due to their orientation or religion or race, color, creed, national origin."
Massey no longer attends school in the district, because her family moved to a nearby area for unrelated reasons. San Francisco's National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU of Southern California have both agreed to take Massey's case.
Massey's mother, Amelia, said she felt Gill's actions made her daughter's sexuality an issue with the other students.
"It wouldn't have been a big deal," Massey said to the Los Angeles Times. "They would have found something bigger and better to talk about."