A California high school that banned the production of the musical Rent by students is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU of Southern California is suing the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and officials of Corona del Mar High School “for permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular.”

Corona del Mar High School cancelled a production of the musical in February because of its gay characters before widespread, negative media coverage led school administrators to reverse themselves and allow the production to go forward.

Among the charges in the lawsuit is that school officials and the school district have discriminated against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender, violating the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and California safe schools laws.

One female student was targeted in a Facebook video in which three male students made sexually explicit comments about her and threatened her with violence. A fourth male student later threatened the female student on campus.

“The school’s inadequate and inappropriate response included assigning an assistant football coach at the school to investigate the harassment, an obvious conflict of interest because three of the four accused students are members of the football team,” said the ACLU.

The female student has been forced to change her schedule, classes and routines in order to avoid the harassing students.

In another example of the hostile atmosphere at Corona del Mar High School, after officials at the school cancelled the production of Rent, they later confiscated rainbow buttons that were worn by some students to show support for the musical.

“The threats, intimidation and slurs directed toward students on the basis of gender and sexual orientation at Corona del Mar High School are part of a growing sexist and homophobic environment there that school administrators could have – and should have – stopped,” said Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU/SC.

“Instead, these school officials amplified the hostile atmosphere by sending the message that the harassers can act with impunity, and by telling students who were the targets of threats and bullying that they would have to find ways to avoid it.”

The ACLU is seeking damages, for the school to institute measures to allow for discrimination complaints and for staff and students to be given diversity training.

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