Lesbian Student Sues School Over Alleged Discrimatory Policy

LesbianSANTA ANA – A former student who took pictures of couples hugging at his Garden Grove high school to bolster claims that gay but not straight students were punished for the display of affection testified Tuesday that he had no proof administrators saw but ignored the acts among heterosexuals.
The photos taken by William Vo at Santiago High School were cited as examples of disparate gay-straight treatment during a news conference at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California office in Los Angeles last year to announce Charlene Nguon’s lawsuit against the Garden Grove Unified School District and nine school officials.
The suit was filed on Sept. 7, 2005, and centers on events in the 2004- 05 school year.
Nguon, now 18 and attending a community college, alleged she was subjected to discriminatory discipline that ultimately led to expulsion, although she finished out her senior year at Santiago.
Vo, now a student at Cal State Long Beach, was the second witness in a case that will be decided by U.S. District Judge James Selna without a jury.
The suit also alleges that former Santiago principal Ben Wolf violated Nguon’s privacy when he told her mother about her sexuality during a meeting in 2004.
Without a jury hearing the case, most of the testimony is contained in previously taken depositions, along with cross-examination by the district’s attorney, Dennis Walsh.
Walsh questioned Vo about his appearance on a television show in which he accused the district of picking on Nguon and her girlfriend, and gave “the impression” that he knew all the facts of the case first-hand.
Vo recalled an occasion when Nguon and her girlfriend, Trang Nguyen, were ordered to attend school on a Saturday after the two hugged.
But when asked to describe another incident, Vo said, “Specifics I don’t remember. What happened in general I could remember.”
Asked about kissing, Vo said, “I’ve never seen them kissing on campus.”
Walsh pointed out that Vo said in his deposition that he saw the couple holding hands, hugging and “kiss(ing) for five seconds or less.”
Vo was asked about his photographs, two of which were marked to indicate that heterosexual students were hugging while standing in front of the administration office windows.
“You wanted to show couples making out and hugging in front of the staff?” Walsh asked Vo.
“Along those lines, yes,” he replied.
Vo admitted he had no evidence that administrators ever saw the acts, although he did say that at least one was taken just after school when staff should have still been inside the building.
One photo showed an embracing couple almost directly in front of an adult woman on campus, but Vo conceded he did not know her identity, whether she worked at the school or if she had any responsibility for dealing with displays of affection.
Walsh also asked about a series of questions concerning Internet chats Vo had with Nguon, in which they talked about how difficult schoolwork was and how easy it was to procrastinate.
Walsh said the questions go to the issue of damages, to show that Nguon had other stresses in her life other than claims of unequal school discipline.
Vo denied Nguon ever told him that she was angry at Nguyen, that they had broken up or that she had feelings for a boy.
He also said Nguon never told him she was a lesbian, but said he knew that she and Nguyen “had a relationship going on.”
“That’s their business, not mine,” he said. “It’s their personal life.”
Nguon’s attorney, Christine Sun, has said that her client was an A student, but her grades slipped to Cs when discipline against her was stepped up.
Lawsuit damages, she said, could hinge on how much the discipline affected Nguon’s grades.
In an earlier ruling, Selna said the district is immune from liability on punitive damages, but he would not bar or dismiss those claims against the individual defendants.
The first trial witness was Carolyn Laub of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, along with Nguon’s mother, Crystal Chhun.
Laub said her organization consults with other districts in the state on gay discrimination and harassment issues. She testified that the organization did not conduct its own investigation of Nguon’s claims, nor did it contact the school district to get its side of the story.
Laub said the alliance does not condone violation of school rules by students, but is concerned about policies unfair to some students and carried out “in an unfair manner.”
Testimony is the trial is expected to conclude on Dec. 5.
Alan Trudell, a spokesman for the district, has denied that the district engages in discriminatory practices.
Polices about appropriate conduct on school campuses are spelled out in state and local codes, district officials said.
On the privacy claim, district officials said in court papers that Nguon lost that right to privacy because she was openly gay on campus.
from The North County Times

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