Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?
Most student-initiated groups should be allowed to form. A federal law known as the Equal Access Act provides that secondary school students in schools that 1)receive federal funding, and 2)have extra-curricular groups, must allow students to form other extra-curricular groups without discriminating based on the religious, philosophical, political or other content of the speech at meetings. GLAD brought and won a case for students seeking to form a Gay Straight Alliance at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis (available at: https://www.glad.org/work/cases/west-high-gsa-v-manchester-school-district). PFLAG estimates that over 20 Southern Maine high schools have GSAs.
In addition to GSAs, over 200 schools (including elementary schools) have “Civil Rights Teams” that work to reduce bias language and the behaviors that lead to threats and violence. These collaborations of students, faculty, and community advisors teach intervention strategies and peer education to reduce intolerance of all types and build an understanding of the Maine Civil Rights Act (discussed earlier in this publication). Additional information is available from the Attorney General’s office (available at: http://www.maine.gov/ag/crime/crimes_we_prosecute/civil_rights/in_schools/civil_rights_teams.shtml).