Teen makes her case for a gay-straight alliance club in federal court

Hannah Faughnan, like many teenagers, wanted to start a club at her Florida middle school, but unlike many other teenagers, she’s now testifying in federal court for her right to start it. The reason: She wanted to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Carver Middle School, but under a recently passed school district provision, all clubs must “impart critical-thinking skills,” and the district ruled that a GSA doesn’t meet those guidelines.

This isn’t the first time Carver has been in the news over a GSA dispute. A former student, Bayli Silberstein, brought a case against Carver over the exact same club and won. But after Silberstein graduated to high school, the school district changed its rules, and Faughnan then submitted her own GSA application. While the school district contends that the new rules are meant for stream-lining club applications and to keep out clubs that weren’t directly tied to school curriculum (the example they give is “cup stacking”), Faughnan defends the GSA as a safe space for bullied teens and a place to foster gender and sex discussion and understanding — and, one could argue, critical thinking.

While mainstream understanding of the gender and sex spectrum is growing, Carver’s school district’s sexual education curriculum is, in their lawyer’s own words, “very controlled, very brief” and “based on scientific evidence and focused on anatomy.” The implication here is that a GSA won’t relate back to the school’s sex ed curriculum the same way that a chess club relates back to math class. Faughnan, who has the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, is fighting that assumption, both for herself and for the LGBTQ and allied students to come through the district.

The ACLU’s argument is that under the Equal Access Act, all federally-funded secondary schools must treat all extracurricular clubs the same. In Florida, a state law amended that so that only high schools were covered, but Carver offers high school credit and thus may fall under that ruling.

Whether or not that specific argument holds up in court, Faughnan’s setting an example for everyone, not just teens. You don’t have to go to court to know that LGBTQ issues are still a hotly-contested issue around the world, and we hope the court recognizes the importance of granting refuge for teens to explore their identity in safety and with the support of their peers.

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