The Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) has the same free speech rights as other student clubs at Federal Way High School, thanks to action by the ACLU. In March school officials notified the GSA that a student government vote against the club will not be grounds for denying it equal access to school resources.
Students led by senior Corrigan Gommenginger had organized the GSA this year to promote tolerance toward lesbian and gay students at the school, and the club had begun meeting on school premises. However, the Associated Student Body (ASB) – the student government – voted down the GSA’s request to be recognized as an ASB club. ASB status is important because it allows the club to do fundraising at school and to advertise its events through daily announcements and posters. No other club has been denied recognition by the ASB.
The GSA’s request for recognition was denied under a Federal Way School District policy restricting ASB affiliation to clubs that obtain a two-thirds vote of current ASB representatives. Representing club members, the ACLU pointed out to district officials that this policy is unconstitutional. In a case involving the University of Wisconsin, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that doling out student activity fees based on a student body election could wrongly allow funds to be allocated on the of prejudice toward a student group. In another case, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that allowing ASB status for some clubs and not others violates the federal Equal Access Act.
“We realize that it may not be popular with the existing ASB to override their decision. The district should view this as a learning opportunity, where the ASB can discover the limits that our constitutional system places on the pure rule of numerical majority,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan.