School which ‘outed’ lesbian did not violate her rights

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A lesbian high school student who sued an Orange County school district and her principal for revealing her homosexuality to her mother did not have her rights violated, a federal judge has ruled.

The ruling was filed on 25 September 2007, almost 10 months after the trial ended. It found that Charlene Nguon was treated no differently from straight students.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Charlene Nguon, 19, was singled out because of her sexual orientation and unfairly disciplined by school officials, who “outed” her to her mother.

Nguon and her mother filed the lawsuit along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Gay Straight Alliance Network.

According to AP, Nguon had also claimed she was singled out and punished by Santiago High School officials for hugging and kissing her girlfriend on campus.

Heterosexual couples engaging in similar behaviour weren’t disciplined, the suit contended.

“The School Defendant’s disciplining of Charlene was not motivated, either in whole or in part, by her sexual orientation,” wrote U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in the ruling.

Dennis Walsh, an attorney for the Garden Grove Unified School District, said the district would file a motion seeking repayment of nearly $400,000 in legal fees from the plaintiffs.

“The judge sends a pretty clear message: They had their day in court and they couldn’t prove any of their claims,” Walsh said.

Nguon’s attorneys have said they appeal the ruling.

“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that their despicable treatment of her was totally caused by their dislike of her sexual orientation,” attorney Dan Stormer said.

Ngoun’s trial concluded in December 2006.

“Charlene is the type of child every parent should be proud of,” said Christine P. Sun, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project in a statement at the time of the trial.

“We’ve tried to work out this situation with the school district so it’s very unfortunate that it has come to this point. Instead of derailing Charlene’s academic achievements, school administrators should have done their job to ensure every student thrives regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Nguon’s was on track to attend a competitive four-year college after graduation in June 2006 until her academic plans were derailed as a result of discrimination by school officials, according to the complaint.

Santiago High School administrators targeted and punished Nguon and her girlfriend for displaying affection on campus, even though similar displays by heterosexual students were common and generally went unpunished.

On one occasion, Nguon was suspended for a week for hugging her girlfriend on campus. As a result of the disciplinary measures, her candidacy for the National Honour Society was rescinded. To keep the two girls apart, officials forced Nguon to transfer schools midway through the second semester of her junior year. After the ACLU intervened on her behalf, Nguon was allowed to return to Santiago, but the school made no effort to improve the climate on campus.

“Charlene was punished for who she is and that has severe personal ramifications and has a significant long-term impact on her life,” said Mr Stormer.

Sun added, “Not only did the school punish Charlene because she was affectionate with her girlfriend, they referred her to counselling for ‘persistent public display of relationship with another girl’ as if her sexual orientation was an affliction that could be cured.”

Dozens of witnesses testified throughout the course of the eight-day trial, including former Santiago principal Ben Wolf, and Nguon’s family, friends and classmates.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Nguon said, “I just don’t understand why my girlfriend and I were not allowed to be affectionate but other couples are.

“Most other students at Santiago are very accepting and tolerant of gay students, but the administration is a different story. We were singled out and disciplined just because we are two girls.”