School’s Gay Straight Alliance wins legal battle after principal banned it from advertising

Young person holds up an LGBT+ pride flag while wearing a shirt that says 'love is love'

Members of an Indiana high school’s LGBT+ club have won their legal battle after they were banned from raising money and promoting meetings.

A district judge issued a preliminary injunction in favour of the Pendleton Heights High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) on Wednesday (22 December) after the principal barred the group from advertising on campus and raising funds for the club.

The lawsuit – filed by the ACLU of Indiana in September on behalf of the GSA – alleged the school violated the students’ First Amendment rights and equal protection rights.

The high school’s principal claimed the GSA wasn’t an “official” club and banned the group from advertising on the “school’s bulletin boards, on the school’s radio station or anywhere on school property”, according to the lawsuit.

District judge James Sweeney II argued that the GSA was “likely to suffer irreparable harm” with the preliminary injunction and declared the school should give the LGBT+ group equal rights with other student organisations.

The order required that the high school provide the GSA with the same rights provided to its other student groups. This included the ability for the LGBT+ youth group to fundraise, advertise and be listed in the school’s student handbook.

The ACLU of Indiana welcomed the judgement in a statement posted on its website.

“While this isn’t the first time the ACLU of Indiana has had to take on a public school for treating a GSA group differently than other student-led organisations, we hope that public schools throughout the state will take notice and forgo future challenges by providing equal treatment to all student groups,” the group said.

“The ACLU of Indiana will continue to work to ensure that all schools in our state provide GSA groups and other student-led groups with the equal rights granted to them by the U.S. Constitution.”

Pendleton Heights High School faced backlash earlier this year after teachers were ordered to remove LGBT+ flags displayed in their classrooms.

District officials initially argued that the Pride flags needed to be removed from classrooms to “maintain viewpoint neutrality”.

Bryce Axel-Adams, a student at Pendleton Heights, started an online petition to “allow Pride Flag to be flown in classrooms” at the high school. Axel-Adams explained in the petition that the LGBT+ flag is “one of the clearest ways” to support queer youth.

They added: “Having a Pride flag is one of the clearest ways to say ‘I support you, and I am here for you. You are loved’.

“That is so important for LGBTQ+ youth, we have always been told that teachers will always be there for us, and being able to easily identify teachers we can safely go to is extremely important to our mental health.”

Axel-Adams later added that they received an update from school administrators to say they had changed their stance. The school officials said they had “changed their argument from the flag being political speech to taking it down to avoid a discrimination lawsuit”, Axel-Adams wrote.

PinkNews has contacted South Madison Community School Corp for comment.