MIAMI -- A South Central Florida high school accused of discrimination must officially recognize a student club that works to promote tolerance of gay men and lesbians, and grant it the same privileges as other school clubs, while a lawsuit takes its course in federal court, a judge ordered yesterday.
The lawsuit, filed in November by the American Civil Liberties Union, said Okeechobee High School officials refused to recognize the club, the Gay-Straight Alliance, and banned its members from holding meetings on school grounds.
Officials at the school in Okeechobee, Fla., about 90 miles south of Orlando, said the club was "sex-based" and violated the school's abstinence-only education policy.
But in a preliminary injunction granted yesterday, Judge K. Michael Moore of the U.S. District Court in Miami wrote that there is no evidence to suggest that the club "will not dedicate itself to the purposes, such as tolerance, that it has outlined without involving obscene or explicit sexual material."
Under the Equal Access Act, public schools that receive federal financial assistance and have clubs that meet outside of class time are required to grant equal rights to every club. The injunction "would ensure compliance with federal law and help protect valued constitutional expressive liberties," Moore wrote.
Rob Rosenwald, an ACLU lawyer who represents the club's president, Yasmin Gonzalez, said, "The school has been sent a clear message that they need to obey the law and open its doors to its gay and lesbian students immediately."
David Gibbs, a lawyer for the Okeechobee County School Board, said he had not yet discussed the judge's order with board members, but thinks they will be satisfied.
"It appears that the judge will hold club members to the limitations they presented in court that they will not discuss sex or promote sexual acts in school," Gibbs said.
Gonzalez, an 18-year-old senior, said, "Now I'm hoping that they make a big announcement that they're allowing us to meet there."
The club formed in September, has more than 60 members and has met monthly off school grounds, she said.