Miami — A gay student who, against a backdrop of taunts and condemnation, sued for the right to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance at her school received an early graduation gift Friday: A federal judge ruled the club can begin meeting on campus immediately.
"I'm really happy," senior Yasmin Gonzalez said from her home in Okeechobee, Fla. "I don't know if it will end harassment at school, but at least other students will have someone to talk to, which is something I didn't have."
The 12-page order by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore does not end Gonzalez's lawsuit against the Okeechobee County School Board but allows the club to gather at the county's only high school while the litigation proceeds.
Still, Moore's order, in which he says Gonzalez has "a substantial likelihood" of proving her case, all but guarantees the board will have to follow the lead of hundreds of schools across the nation, including more than 100 in Florida, that already sponsor school-based alliances. Founded in Massachusetts in 1988, the clubs aim to end harassment and promote tolerance of gay students.
"The language doesn't get any clearer," said Gonzalez's attorney, Rob Rosenwald, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "Hopefully, the school board will see that the court will not rule in its favor and end this costly litigation."
School board chairman Joe Arnold said board members would discuss their options with their attorney before deciding whether to appeal. The board's attorney, David Gibbs, could not be reached for comment.
In his order, Moore rejected the board's argument that Gay-Straight Alliances are "sex-based" clubs that would violate the district's abstinence-only education policy and endanger the well-being of students by exposing them to obscene and sexually explicit material.
Rather, Moore wrote, the board failed to show the purpose of the club was anything other than what Gonzalez and other members say it would be in their proposed charter: "to provide a safe, supportive environment for students and to promote tolerance and acceptance of one another, regardless of sexual orientation."