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Gay student group, school board at odds over equal-access rulings

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • March 19, 2008 - 11:29 PM

A poster hangs in the hall outside the Forum Room at Maple Grove Senior High School, emblazoned with rainbows and marquee-like dots, and the words, "Questions about S.A.G.E.?" Nearby, a sign marked with a red circle and slash proclaims, "Degrading racial, ethnic, sexist or homophobic remarks not welcome here."

Both signs mark progress the group Straights and Gays for Equality has claimed since a judge ruled it must have the same access to school communication tools that other student groups use, such as hall posters and the public address system.

In the first of two forums Wednesday afternoon, attended by more than 50 students and community members, S.A.G.E. members tried to clarify their mission of drawing attention to and fighting harassment against gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual students. They called the forums in response to what they termed a pattern of misinformation and complaints that they had heard from students. One rumor was that the continuing lawsuit had caused a moratorium against new student organizations.

District 279 spokesman Pat Brink said that no such moratorium exists; however, the Osseo School Board has appealed each ruling in S.A.G.E.'s favor in order to reserve the right to classify student groups based upon whether or not they are related to school curriculum.

Two students, with their parents, sued the Osseo School District in October 2005, claiming that the group was due the same tools to communicate with and to advertise to the student body as other "noncurricular" groups for such activities as cheerleading and synchronized swimming.

In April 2006, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen ruled in the students' favor. The district's subsequent appeal was denied by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2006. In September of last year, Ericksen issued a permanent injunction, saying the group must give S.A.G.E. equal access; the district again has appealed.

The students' attorney and the school district have required that they be identified by their initials to protect their privacy.

The students noted that the group had grown from just two or three at a meeting to as many as 38 last time, many of whom are straight. And they've noticed that both students and teachers have been likelier to call others to task for homophobic comments.

One student, N.B., said just the act of putting the words "gay" and "GLBT" on the school walls and sidewalks creates a culture where gay students can feel normal.

Another, P.K., noted that lots of the GLBT students he knows have been rejected by their parents.

"Now they have friends to back them up, to say we're here for you, even if your parents aren't," he said.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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