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Lesbian, 15, Sues School District Over Gym Class Ban

(This story was published in 2002).

A 15-year-old California student banned from gym class because she is a lesbian has sued her middle school, alleging discrimination.

Ashly Massey, an eighth-grader in Banning, a small community in the Southern California desert, contends she was forced to sit in the principal's office during physical education class this spring after the gym teacher heard that she was a lesbian.

The lawsuit filed on her behalf says that the action by Coombs Middle School in Banning violated her constitutional right to equal protection and her rights under the Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, a new California law that prohibits discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the suit.

Soon after the gym teacher heard that Ashly was a lesbian, she called Ashly's mother to inform her that there was a problem with Ashley being in the girl's locker room because of Ashly's sexual orientation, the suit says. Ashly's mother asked the gym teacher if her daughter had misbehaved. The teacher reported that Ashly had not acted improperly, or made any inappropriate comments to other students. Ashly's mother asked the teacher to call her again if there were any future problems.

Ashly's mother Amelia never received another call from the gym teacher. When Ashly showed up for gym class the next day, she was told that she would no longer be allowed in gym class and to go to the principal's office instead. For the next week and a half, Ashly sat in the principal's office during the time she was supposed to be in gym class.

School officials contended that other girls would be uncomfortable dressing in front of Massey.

"It's fine if they're uncomfortable but it's still discrimination," Massey told Reuters in an interview. "I have an equal right to be in the locker room. I didn't do anything wrong. … I felt alienated.

"I'm a little nervous but I think that this is a good opportunity for people like me, whether they are gay, straight or transgender, to be able to stand up for what's happening to them. This goes on all over."

Ashly’s mother was supportive of her daughter’s stance. "She was made out to be a public spectacle," Amelia Massey, a registered nurse, told Reuters. "She feels strongly about who she is and feels strongly that she should take this stand. This is the rest of her life. You can't just put your head down."

"This is a clear case of discrimination," said Martha Matthews, an ACLU attorney. "Ashly did nothing wrong, but she was denied access to a public school class, and forced to sit in the office day after day."

Added Courtney Joslin, staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights: “Even if students are uncomfortable sharing gym class with someone of a different sexual orientation, the school does not have a right to discriminate. Instead, the school should educate students on getting along with others in an increasingly diverse society."

The complaint, filed in federal court in Riverside, asks for damages and for an injunction requiring the school to develop sexual orientation policies and teacher training. School district officials had no comment.