Saturday, March 28, 2009

ACLU sues California district over homophobia, including student Facebook page

According to San Jose’s Mercury News, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sued officials in an Orange County school district, accusing them of allowing sexist and homophobic harassment and bullying at a high school that gained recent notoriety for canceling—then reinstating—a production of the musical "Rent."

The lawsuit, filed in state court, centers on the treatment of a female student at Corona Del Mar High School who was allegedly threatened in a video featuring three other students that was posted on a fourth student's Facebook profile.

The male students in the video used homophobic and sexist language while discussing sexually assaulting and killing the female student, according to the lawsuit, which identifies the student only as Mary Doe. The school and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (N-MUSD) are accused of not adequately responding to the video incident and of condoning sexist and homophobic behavior.

Although much of the complaint is based on the school's alleged acceptance of homophobia, Mary Doe herself is not gay, said Hector Villagra, who directs the ACLU's Orange County office. The district said in a statement that officials were attempting to resolve the matter when they learned about the lawsuit.

The district said the lawsuit had numerous factual errors and mistakes but that “the district will utilize its best efforts to ascertain the truth of these matters, as well as to be sure there are procedures in place to allow prompt resolution of any and all disputes regarding discrimination and harassment."

The lawsuit mentions the controversy over the school's planned production of "Rent: School Edition," a slightly toned-down version of the Pulitzer-prize winning Broadway show, as evidence of school officials' alleged hostility toward gay students.

The lawsuit also accuses the superintendent of not responding to Mary Doe's parents' concerns about her safety and failing to assign an assistant football coach to investigate the harassment, although the three of the four accused students are on the football team. The suit seeks unspecified damages and asks that the school be forced to take steps to redress the alleged homophobic atmosphere on campus.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, 3/18/09, By Jacob Adelman

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