A 17-year-old lesbian high school student alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that she was unfairly disciplined by Garden Grove school officials for hugging and kissing her girlfriend on campus.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana also alleges that a school principal revealed Charlene Nguon’s sexual orientation to her parents, suspended her while allowing similar behavior by heterosexual couples and forced her to transfer to another school.
“It was horrible. I was discriminated against by the administrators,” said Nguon, who is represented by the ACLU and filed the suit along with her mother and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network club.
A spokesman for the Garden Grove Unified School District said he couldn’t comment because officials had not seen the suit. But Alan Trudell added, “Clearly, the district does not engage in discriminatory practices.”
Nguon, now a senior, began dating her girlfriend in fall 2004 at Santiago High School. The lawsuit alleges the pair was repeatedly disciplined for displaying public affection despite the fact that their behavior is not prohibited in the school’s student handbook. Eventually, Principal Ben Wolf told Nguon’s mother about the relationship, and, in March, said the two teens had to attend different schools, according to the lawsuit.
Shortly before the end of her junior year, Nguon transferred to Bolsa Grande High School, increasing her commute from a short walk to a 4 1/2 -mile bike ride, according to the lawsuit.
Nguon, who hopes to attend Stanford University and study international relations, had been a straight-A student in the top 5% of her class at Santiago High. But the commute to the new school, coupled with changing courses midyear, caused Nguon’s grades to drop, according to the suit.
“Unfortunately, for Principal Ben Wolf and other staff at Santiago High, all of Charlene’s accomplishments and exemplary qualities are overshadowed by one fact: that she is a lesbian,” the lawsuit alleges. "... during this past school year, Charlene’s junior year, Principal Wolf has repeatedly punished Charlene and derailed her academic success, all because she dared to be openly lesbian on campus.”
Wolf couldn’t be reached for comment.
Nguon’s attorneys met with district officials this summer, and Nguon has been allowed to enroll at Santiago for the current school year.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, as well as a declaration that the district violated Nguon’s civil rights, an injunction that would forbid the district from harassing her and the expunging of disciplinary records relating to Nguon showing affection to her girlfriend. The suit also seeks district policy changes that would prohibit administrators from revealing a student’s sexual orientation and selectively enforcing discipline or censoring students on the basis of sexual orientation.
“I want to make a difference,” Nguon said. “I want the administration to learn that it’s not right to discriminate ... so other people do not get harassed like I was.”