Judge: School's Gay Rights Club Can Meet

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A high school club that promotes tolerance of gays must be allowed to meet while a lawsuit is pending, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled Friday that Okeechobee High School must grant the same privileges to the Gay Straight Alliance that it grants other clubs, as mandated by the federal Equal Access Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Okeechobee school board in November on behalf of the high school's Gay-Straight Alliance after school officials said the group was a "sex-based" organization that would violate its abstinence-only education policy.

In his 12-page ruling, Moore wrote that the group and its founder, high school senior Yasmin Gonzalez, have "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success" on their claim that the school violated federal law when it prohibited the club from meeting.

ACLU attorney Robert Rosenwald called Friday's order a "strong indication of what will happen in the end."

In his ruling, the judge said the school showed no evidence to back its concern that the group would encourage students to share "obscene or sexual explicit material," and that the school had made that assumption based on the group's name.

David Gibbs, the lawyer for the school board, said Friday he had not spoken to the school board about whether it would press forward for trial. He said he believes the judge's decision honors the school's desire that the club steer clear of discussions related to sex.

"The kids are getting the name they wanted," he said, "But we're pleased that the students are limited to discussing discrimination issues."

Gonzalez said she was happy with the decision and issued a statement saying she hoped future students "will benefit from a more open environment and not have to endure the same treatment from our school."