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Gay students accuse California high school staff of harassment

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Teachers and administrators made student members of a gay and lesbian club at their California high school feel harassed and unwelcome, a civil liberties group that is threatening legal action said on Monday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent a letter on behalf of students at Sultana High School in Hesperia who belong to the school's Gay Straight Alliance demanding changes, including an end to what they called harassment.

Among the changes sought were relaxed rules for the school's upcoming prom in April to comply with the requests of girls who want to don tuxedos and one boy who wishes to wear heels.

Students have complained that school officials failed to use the club's full name in announcements over the intercom, referring to it only as "GSA," and that they refuse to allow the club to post flyers, according to the letter.

The school, located 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, must "cease censoring" the student group, the letter said.

The accusations against Hesperia Unified School District officials represents the latest clash over the place of gay and lesbian students on campus, and it follows efforts by a number of groups to end harassment of students over their sexual orientation.

"We don't hear many stories thankfully where it's really the adults who are doing much of the harassing," ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman said.

But at Sultana High School, it was teachers and administrators who "seemed to be the most uncomfortable" with gay and lesbian students, she said.

Students at the school have complained that teachers have used the word "gay" in a derogatory way.

Amber Stanford, 17, a student at Sultana High, said in a phone interview she was in a class in January when a teacher told her classmate to "take that gay headband off."

In a statement, Hesperia Unified interim Superintendent David McLaughlin called the ACLU's allegations "deeply concerning" and said they have his "full and focused attention."

"While the ACLU letter focuses specifically on the rights of gay and lesbian students, I see it as a moral imperative to reinforce the current efforts in place regarding anti-bullying and tolerance throughout the district," McLaughlin said.

The ACLU has helped other gay and lesbian students sue school officials for discrimination.

In 2010, a high school in Fulton, Mississippi, canceled its prom to prevent then student Constance McMillen from attending with her girlfriend. McMillen sued and won a $35,000 settlement.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Shumaker)

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