by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Just 24 hours after a letter sent by the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Faegre & Benson, LLP, urging the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Champlin Park High School (CPHS) to immediately restore the rights of two Lesbian students, Desiree 'Dez' Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, all parties announced that 'we have worked together, collaboratively, to arrive at an arrangement for introductions of elected royalty that is respectful and inclusive of all students,' in a joint statement.
The request, sent in response to the school's effort to prevent the students from participating as a same-sex couple at a school assembly, asked the school to rescind these discriminatory actions by noon on January 31, 2011. If they failed to do so, an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order would have been filed to prevent the school from violating the students' rights under the United States Constitution and Minnesota law and ensure the event goes on as it has in the past, stated NCLR officials.
The two students were both selected by their classmates as 'royalty' for the Snow Days winter formal dance at CPHS. In an effort to prevent them from participating as a same-sex couple, the school told Desiree and Sarah that it would cancel that part of the festivities.
'Preventing Lesbian student couples from participating in school dances and assemblies on an equal basis with other couples violates their First Amendment right to express their affection for each other, and also violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act,' said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. 'Dez and Sarah were chosen by their peers as 'royalty' for the Snow Days Pep Fest and Coronation, and Champlin Park High School's refusal to accept them as a couple shows that the school administration's attitudes lag far behind those of the students they serve.'
Traditionally, at the school-wide Snow Days Pep Fest and Coronation, CPHS holds a processional in which the members of the court enter the assembly walking in pairs. Historically, CPHS has allowed students elected as royalty to choose their processional partner if they have a preference. When two students who are boyfriend and girlfriend are selected, it has been common practice to allow them to walk in the processional together. This year, after the students were selected, the school cancelled this part of the festivities to prevent Dez and Sarah from participating as a same-sex couple.
According to NCLR officials, the Minnesota Human Rights Act explicitly prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or sexual orientation. Such discrimination is also prohibited by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution. The school's actions, stated NCLR, also violated the First Amendment, which protects the rights of students to bring same-sex dates to school-sponsored events.
The groups also requested that the district make clear to the school's principal and to all district staff that it is unlawful and a violation of the First Amendment for schools to censor student expression of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or support for LGBT rights.
'Each member of the Royalty Court will select a meaningful person in their life to escort him or her in the coronation procession following introductions at this year's Pep Fest. This will enable Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton to walk together in the processional,' said the Lesbian couple, their counsel, the Anoka-Hennepin School District, CPHS Principal Michael George, Superintendent Dennis Carlson, and their counsel in a joint statement.
'The school district and its administrators and staff view this arrangement as an opportunity for ongoing conversation about school events and activities and for consideration of other ideas that will make our school communities inclusive and will enable us to realize the district-wide objective of honoring all students,' said NCLR. In addition, district administrators and staff will include all students, including LGBT students, in that conversation.
'Sarah and Des are pleased with this positive outcome and gratified by the school district's commitment to honoring all students,' read the joint statement.
The lawsuit will be dismissed amicably without admissions of fault or wrongdoing and without further proceedings or expense to either side. The parties wish to acknowledge and appreciate the role played by Minnesota Federal District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson in facilitating the conversation leading to this resolution, said NCLR.
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