ACLU Foundation of Northern California Sues School District for Censoring Students’ LGBTQ Quotes in Yearbook

Chawanakee Unified School District rejected quotes that represented and advocated for LGBTQ people

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UPDATE: The school district has agreed to insert Mika and Steven’s yearbook quotes in the 2018-2019 Minarets High School Yearbook.

MADERA, CA — The ACLU Foundation of Northern California today filed a lawsuit against Chawanakee Unified School District and Minarets High School administrators on behalf of two students for censoring the students’ speech celebrating their LGBTQ identities in violation of their free speech rights and right to be free of anti-LGBTQ bias in California schools.

Steven Madrid and Mikayla Garaffa, two Minarets High School students, selected quotes for their yearbook senior pages. Although the quotes were generic statements in support of LGBTQ people, the two students received an email from their school’s yearbook advisor rejecting the quotes for being “politically divisive.” Their quotes were:

  • Steven’s quote: “I think that the best day will be when we no longer talk about being gay or straight -- it’s not a ‘gay wedding,’ it’s just a ‘wedding’. It’s not a ‘gay marriage,’ it’s just ‘a marriage.’” - Pink.
  • M.G.’s quote: “If Harry Potter has taught us anything, it’s that no one deserves to live in a closet. What they don’t know can’t hurt them.”

“There is nothing controversial about supporting equality for LGBTQ people,” said Abre' Conner, ACLU Foundation of Northern California staff attorney. “School officials can’t censor students’ speech because they are uncomfortable with it.”

After the quotes were rejected, the two students sent the district a letter from the ACLU national office to Minarets High School’s yearbook advisor and school principal, asserting their free speech rights. The two administrators, acting on behalf of the school and the district, ignored this appeal, violating the students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and clear and well-established California law.

“As the President of my school’s Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network club, I was proud to share this quote about who I am and what I believe and to speak up for other students who may not feel comfortable sharing their story,” said Garaffa. “Our school administration has a responsibility to work towards ensuring a safe, encouraging environment for all students.”

“I believe my existence should not be looked at differently because of who I may love,” said Madrid. “I wanted to express something about myself in the same way that other students express essential things about themselves on their yearbook pages. There is no excuse for discriminating against students based on our personal views.”

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California joined the Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network, Equality California, and others in advocating for the FAIR Education Act in 2011. Passed to require LGBTQ-inclusion in curriculum and address LGBTQ-bias in school-sponsored activities, the law prohibits a school district from sponsoring any activity “that promotes a discriminatory bias” on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“It is vital that LGBTQ+ students be able to live authentically and be seen for who they are at school,” said Ginna Brelsford, Co-Executive Director of Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network. “GSA Network advocated for the FAIR Education Act in 2011 to ensure that the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history are integrated into school curricula. We work with GSA clubs across California to implement this important law, which promotes visibility and social inclusion. Yet, we know schools have not followed the law. They still fail to teach students about our existence and influence in social justice, pop culture, and innovation. If being ourselves is considered politically divisive, it is because our histories have been kept from us and our peers for far too long.”

Filed in the Madera County Superior Court, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California lawsuit asserts that Chawanakee Unified School District and the Minarets High School administrators clearly violated a range of well-established free speech protections, non-discrimination law, and the FAIR Education Act when they rejected the students’ quotes for the school yearbook on the basis that they were “politically divisive.”

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