ACLU Says Officials Agree Not To Censor Student Displaying Pro-Gay Messages

Monday, April 19, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and Lambda Legal announced today that they have received assurances from officials at Greenbrier High School that the school will stop censoring a student from wearing shirts expressing pro-gay messages.

The ACLU said the school will also provide training on its anti-bullying policy to staff and students "to ensure that it is clear that harassment of any student, regardless of sexual orientation, is not acceptable."

“Students not only have a First Amendment right to be out at school, but the right to an education free from discrimination and harassment,” said Tricia Herzfeld, ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney. “We applaud the school for recognizing this and taking steps to ensure that they are providing a safe and equal learning environment for all students.”

The school’s move was prompted by negotiations with the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal on behalf of Cole Goforth, a Greenbrier High School freshman, and his mother, Julie Gordon. The student contacted the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal after he was sent home from school on April 5 for wearing a T-shirt that said, “I [Love] Lady Gay Gay” and told by school officials that he also could not wear a T-shirt in support of marriage equality because doing so and, apparently, wearing any shirt with a pro-gay message on it, was inherently “disruptive.”

The ACLU said the student "had long been subjected to daily anti-gay harassment at school, including threats of physical violence. Goforth was not only unable to get relief from the school, he was told by school employees that he had 'brought [harassment] on himself by coming out [as gay].'"

“Sending Cole home for wearing a shirt with the word ‘gay’ on it not only trampled this student’s right to freedom of expression, but also sent a destructive message to all students that there is something wrong with being gay or even saying the word ‘gay,’” said Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell. “We are pleased that school officials have recognized their obligation to respect pro-LGBT speech and to protect students from anti-gay harassment instead of allowing bullies to silence speakers.”

The ACLU said in the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court held that students in public schools don't “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” and ruled that schools can only censor student speech when the speech itself – and not other people's reaction to it – is disruptive to the educational process.

Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Tennessee "noted in discussions with the school that many schools have misinterpreted this notion, arbitrarily calling student speech disruptive in an attempt to illegally censor free speech. Furthermore, the organizations warned the school that attempting to use the harassment the student experienced at the hands of his peers as a justification for censoring his speech was illegal."


Dalton/Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon, and Catoosa Counties Selected As An Early Education Empowerment Zone

Dalton/Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, Gordon and Catoosa Counties were selected as one of Georgia’s four Early Education Empowerment Zones and will participate in a community commitment ceremony at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Whitfield/Dalton Day Care Center, 515 South Pentz St. in Dalton.  The five counties will collaborate together in what will be known as the Northern Counties zone. ... (click for more)

Wanda Shelton Named Tennessee Superintendent Of The Year

The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents met in Gatlinburg, TN on Sept. 7 for the annual awards and recognition dinner. The 2015 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year was announced at the banquet on Sunday night. This year’s honor was awarded to Dr. Wanda Shelton, Lincoln County Schools, South-Central District. Dr. Shelton was named statewide Superintendent of ... (click for more)

Man Charged With Killing 3-Year-Old Takes Own Life In County Jail

Justin Dale Bradley died in the Hamilton County jail Saturday morning. Notification was received from the Hamilton County 911 Center at   12:50 a.m. ,   regarding an inmate found unresponsive.   Jail personnel found the male inmate unresponsive in his cell and initiated C.P.R. while notifying Hamilton County Emergency Medical Services. ... (click for more)

Democratic Chairman Roy Herron Announces He Will Not Run For 2nd Term

Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron announced Saturday at a meeting of the Tennessee Democratic Party State Executive Committee that he would not be seeking a second term as party chairman. “I have been blessed to serve as chairman these past two years, and I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all of the executive committee members, party officials, staff members, and friends ... (click for more)

You’re Right With Lamar

One of Tennessee’s favorite sons, Davy Crockett, coined an oft-used phrase:  “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Being sure is quite important, but may be difficult in this election cycle. The Democratic nominee campaigning against Lamar Alexander is a man whose radio ads call for “change,” “fair” taxes and more jobs.  Sounds good, huh?   ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Late Garden Walk

Due to a series of pressing events I didn’t get a chance to make my September walk through the garden until yesterday. It is normally my custom to take a stroll on the first day of each new month, looking for the orchids and onions that might appear, so I can award them to those among us who deserve one or the other. So before the temperatures drop, allow me to catch up: AN ORCHID ... (click for more)