Gay club backers felt bias

January 12, 2005
DENVER c Palmer High School students testified Tuesday that they felt like second-class citizens when they were told the Gay Straight Alliance could not be a school-sponsored club.
The students testified in a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that seeks to bar Colorado Springs School District 11 from refusing to recognize the club. The hearing continues today. The lawsuit was filed after D-11 denied the Gay Straight Alliance recognition as a school club last year, eventually telling the students the reason was that the club was not curriculum-related. Student organizers argued that the district was discriminating, because many other officially recognized clubs, such as the Mountain Biking Club, weren’t related to curriculum. After the district was sued, the club policy was clarified, stating that noncurriculum clubs would not be officially recognized. Nine clubs at Palmer, and 30 districtwide, were reclassified as independent because they had no connection to school courses. Attorney Alfred McDonnell, representing the six students suing the district, said Tuesday that if the district allows one noncurriculum-related club, they must allow all noncurriculum-related clubs under the federal Equal Access Act. The district, however, argued Tuesday that its two-tier club system does not discriminate against the Gay Straight Alliance. The two-tier club system complies with the Equal Access Act because independent clubs are treated the same, attorney Eric Bentley said. Superintendent Norm Ridder testified Tuesday that the district has always had a twotier system, but there was confusion about the policy. Principals, who make the decisions about how a club is classified, weren’t following the district policy, Ridder said, allowing some clubs to be school-sponsored when they should have been independent. Independent clubs are not allowed to use the public address system, cannot post fliers anywhere except on one bulletin board and are not pictured in the yearbook. Also, money raised by the club is not kept in a school account and faculty advisers to independent clubs do not receive a stipend. Several of the reclassified groups have since disbanded, said Sara Thomas, including Dance Team and Interact, a community service club. Thomas, who has since graduated from Palmer and is attending college, asked to start the Gay Straight Alliance in January 2003. Gay Straight Alliance President and current Palmer student Jaime Catchen-Dunne said it’s difficult to advertise meetings when the club is limited to posting fliers on one bulletin board in the school. The Gay Straight Alliance, which has three members, has not asked to post anything on the board during this school year, she said. Thomas, who said she heard derogatory comments about homosexuals daily in the halls at Palmer, said the club would provide a safe place for students to discuss issues about homosexuality and gay rights. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0394 or
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