Christine Sun [the ACLLU lawyer who represents Charlene Nguon, said:] "It's really important, because, while Charlene's parents have been very supportive, coming out is a very serious decision that should not be taken away from anyone, and disclosure can cause a lot of harm to students who live in an unsupportive home."...Schools often tell parents things about their children that are news to the parents but no secret at all at the school. The news that one's child is gay is a unique item of information, however. For a gay person, telling a parent is a special moment in the relation between parent and child. The young person thinks about when to tell the each parent and how to put it. These are decisions that take into account everything that young person knows about the parents attitudes and moods. How it is done has intense short term and deep long term effects on the relationships a person has with each of his or her parents. For a school to preempt that profound interaction and dump the news on a parent to add some extra dimension to a discipline report betrays a contemptible lack of dedication to the interests of students.
Conservatives criticized the judge's reasoning. "This court ruling is so unrealistic that it borders on ridiculous," said Carrie Gordon Earll, a spokeswoman for Focus on the Family, a socially conservative group based in Colorado. "In a disciplinary action by the school, you can't expect them to lie to the parents and not give details of what happened. It seems ironic to raise privacy as an issue in a public display of affection. She'd already outed herself."
Advocates for gay rights, however, welcomed the judge's decision to let the case proceed, but said it was too soon to celebrate.
"I wouldn't yet go out and tell a kid in Iowa to walk down the halls at school holding hands with his boyfriend," said Brian Chase, a lawyer with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "It isn't fair, but gay kids expressing affection are not treated the way straight kids are."
The lawsuit seeks to clear Ms. Nguon's record and create a districtwide policy and guidelines for the treatment of gay students.
This is not a legal opinion of mine. I don't know the law in this area enough to have a legal opinion. This is an ethical judgment.
IN THE COMMENTS: Several readers talk about their own experiences coming out to their parents. One reader finds the complaint in the lawsuit and discovers a blogging angle:
Paragraph 28: While Charlene was serving her one-week suspension in or about March 2005, Principal Wolf called her and her mother in for a meeting at the school. At the meeting, Principal Wolf threatened to expel Charlene for an offcampus “blog,” an online journal entry, wherein Charlene had criticized another student for being materialistic and criticized teachers for favoring that student. He also threatened that he could have Charlene arrested and her computer confiscated for the blog entry, but none of those things happened.And there's a link to another version of the news story, one with better detail, revealing the problem to be not just the disclosure of information to the parents but also the discriminatory application of the school's rule against public displays of affection:
In his 13-page ruling issued Monday, [Judge] Selna wrote that the administrators failed to take "action to stop or remedy the alleged harassment and discrimination" and failed to enact an "adequate formal or informal policy to ensure that Santiago High is providing a learning environment free from discrimination" as required by the California Education Code.
While attorneys for the district argued that Nguon had no right to privacy regarding her sexual orientation because she had been openly demonstrative toward her girlfriend in public on the campus, Selna agreed with Nguon's attorneys that because an event is not wholly private, it does not mean that an individual has no interest in limiting disclosure or dissemination of the information.
"The court finds that (Nguon) has alleged a serious invasion of her privacy interest by Wolf when he disclosed her sexual orientation to her mother," Selna wrote.
"The court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged disparate treatment of (Nguon) on the basis of her sexual orientation," Selna wrote.
"Plaintiffs have alleged that (Nguon) was disciplined for expressive conduct that is not similarly punished when engaged in by heterosexual students," Selna wrote. "Hence the complaint alleges discriminatory treatment regarding a clearly established constitutional right, and Wolf is not entitled to qualified immunity."