Badpuppy Gay Today

Thursday, 1 May 1997


ACLU Challenge Results in Clear Message Protecting First Amendment

Decision Comes Down as Birmingham Pride Alliance Celebrates Ellen

by Warren D. Adkins


Alabama's gays and lesbians, kept from associating on college campuses, and already galvanized into action by an ABC affiliate's blackout of Ellen, have been handed an Alabama-territory legal/social victory. By a unanimous verdict of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, gay and lesbian students may now take advantage of freedom of assembly as do others.

In a ringing victory for the rights of gay students, according to reports from the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the challenge, a three-judge panel has sent a clear message that states may not keep lesbian and gay students from meeting and talking on campus.

This decision comes as students in other parts of the nation, in both Washington, D.C. and New York, are rising up, staging a rash of protests against what they feel are injustices still perpetrated by academia's administrators. At Mt. Holyoke college in the nation's capital, for example, 23 students took over a campus building, vowing to remain there until a meeting space for gay males and lesbians got sanctioned.

The Alabama law had sought to keep lesbian, gay and bisexual student groups off university campuses. The three judges ruled that this law violates the First Amendment rights of students and is wholly unenforceable.

Matt Coles, director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, who argued the case in January, said, "Colleges should be a place of open discourse and equal opportunity. This law contradicted that purpose, and sought to exclude lesbian and gay students from the fabric of campus life."

Recognizing, say ACLU reports, that "facial invalidation of a statute is strong medicine," the federal appeals court nonetheless ruled that the Alabama law violates the First Amendment on its face, saying it "would have to ignore the Supreme Court's instructions and rewrite the statute for it to pass constitutional muster."

Written by Judge Joel F. Dubina and joined by Judges Susan H. Black and William C. O'Kelley, the decision was handed down April 29, and attorneys for Alabama have announced they won't appeal the ruling.

The contested statute, Section 16-1-28 of the Alabama's Education Code, sought to bar "any college or university from spending public funds or using public sanction, recognize, or support any group that promotes a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws" of the state.

The law swept through the Alabama legislature in 1992 after officials at Auburn University granted official recognition to a gay student group there. The ACLU brought its challenge when the state invoked the recently enacted law against the Gay and Lesbian Bisexual Alliance at the University of South Alabama, a state-run college in Mobile.

The alliance had sought official recognition from the university in order to further its mission to create a supportive environment for gay, lesbian and bisexual students, as well as to foster discussion about homophobia and AIDS prevention.

The ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project is joined in the case by the ACLU of Alabama, with Fern Singer of Birmingham serving as its cooperating attorney.

1997 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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