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District Settles Suit Alleging Gay-Bashing

The ACLU had sued L.A. Unified over purported harassment at Washington Prep. Teachers, students must take anti-bias training.

July 01, 2005|Rachana Rathi | Times Staff Writer

The ACLU of Southern California settled a federal lawsuit this week alleging that administrators, teachers and security guards at Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles harassed gay and lesbian students.

The settlement, reached Tuesday, requires the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay attorney fees and $2,000 to a campus club, as well as provide anti-bias training for Washington Prep teachers, staff and students, and for middle school students who will attend the high school.

The suit alleged that the school and the district allowed a climate "rife with hostility" toward gay students to exist on campus. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in October in U.S. District Court on behalf of two Washington Prep students and the campus' Gay-Straight Alliance Network club.

Faculty and student training sessions on diversity, discrimination and harassment related to actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity began in the spring -- before the lawsuit was settled.

"All parties were in agreement that it was necessary to intervene on that campus right away because of the severity of the harassment," said Catherine Lhamon, co-counsel in the case for the ACLU of Southern California. "At this point, we're very enthusiastic the school and district are both taking serious steps to make Washington Prep a more welcoming place for all of its students and staff."

The lawsuit also alleged that administrators, teachers and staff called students pejorative names and told them that being gay is "wrong" and "unholy." Additionally, the lawsuit alleged that deans and other administrators suspended students for being gay or for complaining about harassment. Further, the suit alleged that teachers threatened to "out" students to their families as punishment for students' sexual orientation.

Under terms of the settlement, neither the school nor the district admitted fault.

Kevin Reed, the district's general counsel, said that many of the allegations in the lawsuit "seemed unfounded."

"That does not mean these aren't serious issues. And we take them seriously," he said. "We believe L.A. Unified has got a stellar record in being proactive on our campuses and in creating a learning environment that is safe for all of our students.... It did not take this lawsuit for us to have trainings in place at Washington Prep and all of our high schools."

Since 2002, the district has conducted anti-bias training sessions at all of its high school and middle school campuses, Reed said. But that program is different from the sessions required under terms of the settlement.

As part of the agreement, the Anti-Defamation League held three daylong faculty training sessions on the campus in the spring and will have another in the fall. Also, Washington Prep faculty members must participate in a 50-minute follow-up session each of the next two school years.

The ACLU and the campus club can request more training if the climate on campus doesn't improve, Lhamon said.

The school's ninth-, 10th- and 11th- graders had 50-minute classroom training sessions through the Gay and Lesbians Initiating Dialogue for Equality organization in the spring. The next two incoming freshman classes and feeder middle school students and faculty will also receive the training, which includes speakers who discuss how homophobia has affected their lives.

Jerry Saslow, a board member of Gay and Lesbians Initiating Dialogue for Equality, said the group has had powerful, but sometimes difficult, sessions with students at Washington Prep.

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