CINCINNATI - A 16-year-old junior at a high school near Cincinnati is taking his school district to federal court for denying him his First Amendment rights, according to Lambda Legal attorney Christopher Clark.
Lambda Legal is an advocacy group based in New York that promotes civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people through impact litigation, education and public policy work, according to a release.
At issue is a T-shirt that says "Jesus is not a homophobe," which Maverick Couch wanted to wear last year in support of the annual day of silence, a student-led event where students bring attention to the issue of anti-gay bullying and harassment. Students will typically remain silent throughout the day to highlight the silencing of lesbian and gay students when they are bullied or harassed.
The principal, Randy Gebhardt, is also named in the lawsuit and told him to take it off when he wore it to school, Maverick said.
The lawsuit alleges Gebhardt threatened Maverick with suspension if he did not stop wearing the shirt to school.In a letter to Lambda Legal, Deters said, "It is the position of the Wayne Local School District that the message communicated by the student's T-shirt was sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting. Wayne Local School District Board of Education had the right to limit clothing with sexual slogans, especially in what was then a highly-charged atmosphere, in order to protect its students and enhance the educational environment."
As to the sexual nature of the T-shirt, Clark said at a news conference Tuesday morning in Cincinnati that "it's pretty apparent if you just look at the shirt, that argument borders on the absurd."
Couch said he was surprised when he was asked to take off his shirt.
"When I was asked to remove my shirt on the day of silence last year, I was baffled," Couch said. "I don't know how they see it as sexual, other than it having to do with sexual orientation."
"Public schools have a responsibility to instill moral values in students and provide students with an understanding of socially acceptable behavior," Deters went on to say in his letter.
"I'm the only kid in my school that I know of that participates in this day of silence," he admitted.If other students are allowed to wear shirts with Jesus slogans I have no problem with this shirt. I can understand him wanting to not be called names , to left in peace to go about his day . I agree with that . But why is he expecting to be supported by everyone ? Not everyone is going to support you ; in anything you do there will always people who disagree with it . It seems to me he is wanting something beyond not being bullied.The shirt still means a lot to Couch, he said.
"For me, the shirt means I am looking for acceptance," Couch said. "I want to be supported by the school, by my friends, by everybody. I do get picked on now and again, called faggot, queer."
The shirt has a greater message, Clark added.
"It's because that kind of name calling and bullying happens every day in high schools around the country," Clark said. "What gay and lesbian students figure out early on is that on some level, they have to take it, because otherwise, they're not going to make it through high school."