During the 2015 – 2016 school year, students at Franklin County High School in Winchester, Tennessee formed a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at their school. They had followed the proper procedures and secured a faculty sponsor.
Then, in January 2016, they had their first meeting and the backlash began. Outside groups and parents called on the school board to ban the club. GSA posters were ripped down from school walls or vandalized with homophobic slurs. The faculty sponsor contacted ACLU-TN for help and advice.
We sent a letter to the director of schools outlining the requirements of the Equal Access Act, which requires schools that allow non-curricular clubs to do so fairly and without regard to the club’s purpose or message. ACLU-TN also advised students on their rights and the fact that if the school board decide to eliminate all non-curricular clubs it would result in the majority of clubs at the school, including religious and social service clubs, being shut down.
The school board ultimately acknowledged that it could not single out the GSA for elimination and elected not to terminate all non-circular clubs in order to do so. ACLU-TN continues to work with the GSA to monitor the situation and address continuing problems with bullying and harassment that are not being handled by the school system.
ACLU-TN’s Franklin County GSA Demand Letter (February 8, 2016)