LOS ANGELES — A group of high school journalists has sued their Bakersfield school district in an effort to keep their principal from censoring student newspaper articles on homosexuality.
The suit, filed May 19 by the American Civil Liberties Union in Kern County Superior Court, requested an emergency order to allow the paper to publish the stories in The Kernal's year-end May 27 issue. Students also want school administrators to take steps to reduce homophobia and anti-gay attitudes.
"The Kernal staff, along with the gay students we interviewed, we have lost our voices," said the paper's editor in chief, Joel Paramo, who is one of the plaintiffs in the case. The Gay-Straight Alliance Network is another plaintiff.
East Bakersfield High School Principal John Gibson said he blocked publication because he was worried about violence on campus.
"It's not about gay and lesbians. It's about student safety," he said.
The articles include photos and interviews with gay students discussing their sexual orientation.
"No incident in the past led us to believe that those students, who are already open about their sexual orientation, had anything to worry about," Paramo told reporters May 19 at the ACLU's Los Angeles office.
Bakersfield, which is about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, is known as a conservative community, but Paramo, 18, said students at East Bakersfield are tolerant for the most part. He said the principal's decision "regrettably sends the unmistakable message that school officials would rather students keep closeted about their sexual orientation."
Student reporters obtained written permission from those they interviewed and from the parents of those who were minors. Paramo said the newspaper staff also agreed, under pressure, not to include photos or names of the gay students, but that compromise was rejected.
On May 19, ACLU officials said, the district agreed to allow publication if the names and photos were withheld, but this time the students rejected the offer.
Eighteen-year-old senior Janet Rangle, who was interviewed along with her mother for the paper, is another of the plaintiffs. She said when she came out as a lesbian, students were either supportive or didn't care.
Gibson's decision "made me feel like I was back where I was — in the closet again, hiding" she said.
ACLU attorney Christine Sun said the group is seeing a pattern of efforts by school administrators to stifle speech about homosexuality. The organization is litigating a similar case in Fullerton.
California's education code allows schools to censor student publications only if articles are obscene, libelous or slanderous, or if an article "so incites students as to create a clear and present danger ... or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school."
"It's our concern that with the publication of those articles, those students might be in danger or that our campus might be subject to some kind of violence," said district spokesman John Teves.
The student journalists said they were surprised by Gibson's decision because the award-winning paper has had a good relationship with administrators in the past. Earlier this year it published stories on teen rape and teen virginity, said Maria Krauter, another plaintiff in the case and one of the newspaper's editors.
Another student interviewed for The Kernal's stories, junior Rudy Cachu, 17, said he has been taunted by some students about being gay but the harassment stopped after he spoke with administrators.
"We were really excited because finally people were going to hear what we had to say," he said of the stories.
think about the future generation of gay kids who are going to come to this school, and I want them to know they can be who they are, and it's OK," Cachu said.