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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Minnesota High School Sued To Allow Lesbian Royalty

A federal lawsuit was filed Friday in Minneapolis on behalf of two openly lesbian members of Champlin Park High School's Snow Days royalty who want to walk into a pep fest on Monday as a couple.

The lawsuit is just another development in a controversy that was sparked by the school's decision to change their tradition of having the 24 members of student royalty walk in as couples, (boys with girls). Now, the students will walk individually, accompanied by a parent, teacher or other adult mentor.

The students at the center of this issue, 18 year old seniors Desiree Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, did not initiate the lawsuit. It was filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on their behalf by representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Faegre & Benson law firm.

A district spokeswoman said the Champlin Park High School principal didn't want the young women to walk in together because he feared they would be teased, but the lawsuit said denying them that opportunity was discrimination and an infringement of their First Amendment rights.

Anoka-Hennepin School District officials said the decision was made to stress that students should be honored as individuals, and not by sexual preference. Champlin Park Principal Michael George made the call earlier this week after speaking with district officials, said district spokeswoman Mary Olson.

Olson said the feeling behind the decision was "just that this would be more comfortable for everyone.

"We believe we have come up with a better practice that is more tolerate and acceptable to all students," Olson said, adding that the traditional method assumed students were heterosexual while the new system makes no assumptions at all.

Sam Wolfe, a lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that wasn't good enough. "The intent is really clear," he said. "The district does not want the same-sex couple walking in together." However, walking into together was precisely why Shelton and Lindstrom campaigned to be elected by their peers in the first place. "Their intention was to make a political and public statement about gender roles" and lesbian and gay students, the lawsuit said.

Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, said, "It's kind of astonishing that two girls walking together is so shameful and terrible for other people to witness" that the event would be altered.

A mediation session had been set for Saturday morning. If that fails, a court hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday. The pep rally is set for 1:30 p.m.

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