(Champlin, MN, January 28, 2011)— The Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre & Benson, LLP have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Champlin Park High School (CPHS) on behalf of two lesbian students, Desiree (“Dez”) Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom.
The lawsuit, which addresses the school’s effort to prevent the students from participating as a same-sex couple at a school assembly, was filed after the school and school district failed to comply with a request earlier in the day from the organizations that they rescind their discriminatory actions. An emergency motion for a temporary restraining order was also filed to ensure the event goes on as it has in the past.
“We are disappointed that the school and school district will not simply grant these two students the same rights as every other student, as they are due under both state and federal law,” said Sam Wolfe, lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It is an absolute shame that the school and school district have tarnished what should be a joyous celebration through these discriminatory actions.”
The two students were both selected by their classmates as “royalty” for the Snow Days winter event at CPHS. In an effort to prevent them from participating as a same-sex couple, the school told Desiree and Sarah that it would cancel a part of the festivities set for Monday afternoon.
“Preventing lesbian student couples from participating in school dances and assemblies on an equal basis with other couples violates their First Amendment right to express their affection for each other, and also violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Dez and Sarah were chosen by their peers as ‘royalty’ for the Snow Days Pep Fest and Coronation, and Champlin Park High School’s refusal to accept them as a couple shows that the school administration’s attitudes lag far behind those of the students they serve.”
Traditionally, at the school-wide Snow Days Pep Fest and Coronation, CPHS holds a processional in which the members of the court enter the assembly walking in pairs. Historically, CPHS has allowed students elected as royalty to choose their processional partner if they have a preference. When two students who are boyfriend and girlfriend are both selected, it has been common practice to allow them to walk in the processional together. This year, after the students were selected, the school cancelled this part of the festivities to prevent Dez and Sarah from participating as a same-sex couple.
The school’s actions are a clear violation of these students’ rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Minnesota Constitution, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or sexual orientation. Such discrimination is also prohibited by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution. The school’s actions also violate the First Amendment, which protects the rights of students to bring same-sex dates to school-sponsored events.
The groups also requested that the district make clear to the school’s principal and to all district staff that it is unlawful and a violation of the First Amendment for schools to censor student expression of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.
“The decision to cancel the processional, rather than let same-sex couples participate, puts the lie to the district’s claim that it’s neutral on issues of sexual orientation,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s obvious that the school and school district are playing favorites.”
NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org
NCLR Communications Associate Kari Kussmann | Office: 415.392.6257 x305 | KKussmann@NCLRights.org
SPLC Communications Director Marion Steinfels | Office: 334.956.8417 | Marion.Steinfels@SPLCenter.org