FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - A student organization for LGBT+ students at Leo Junior Senior High School has sued East Allen County Schools, alleging Leo administration has prohibited the club from referring to itself as a "gay-straight alliance" or using the words "gay, LGBT+, or similar language" in announcements about the club.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Leo Pride Alliance claims it had hoped to be known as "Leo GSA" but the school "required" it be called "Leo Pride Alliance." Gay-straight alliances are designed to be safe and support environments in schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex students, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also alleges the club's members cannot use the words "gay, GSA, LGBT+, or similar language" in any announcements concerning the club, they cannot meet outside of a single classroom, and they cannot participate in school fundraisers.
The lawsuit also alleges the school would only allow the club to put up a bulletin board if it performed community service outside of the school, a requirement the suit said was not imposed on any other club. The school ultimately allowed the bulletin board but said content displayed on it would need to be approved, the suit said.
The faculty advisor of Leo Pride Alliance is also required to send a list of all club members to all faculty.
The lawsuit states Leo Pride Alliance has more than 30 members.
The suit alleges the school district has violated the Equal Access Act, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The club has asked for appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief.
The director of Fort Wayne Pride says it's important for a LGBT+ group to be easily identifiable.
"When it's not identifying LGBT or gay, or identifying what the group is about, that makes it harder for students who are at risk to find the group. As well as, it does make the students who do know about the group feel almost like they're supposed to be ashamed of who they are. Like that's supposed to be a secret group, or something that not everybody can know what's going on," says Nikki Fultz, director of Fort Wayne Pride.
East Allen County Schools spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly says, "We take the rights of our students seriously. We are looking into this matter."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on behalf of Leo Pride Alliance.
“This group aims to create an environment that provides social, emotional and educational support to students, during a time that otherwise might be increasingly difficult for LGBTQ students,” said Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU of Indiana. “The differential treatment aimed at Leo Pride Alliance by administrators is unwarranted.”