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."


Lee Mathematics Students Present At Joint Mathematics Meeting

Lee University mathematic students Robert Chaney and Chanda Hughes presented at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Atlanta.  The students presented about the experiences they have gained from their internships. The presentation, “From the Classroom to the Corporate World: Sharing Internship Experiences,” took place during a session sponsored by BIG SIGMAA (Business, Industry, ... (click for more)

Lee Group Departs For Semester In UK

Twenty Lee University students departed for the annual United Kingdom (UK) Semester Study Abroad program on Monday.  Throughout the semester-long trip overseas, participants are able to earn 15 credit hours while living in the city of Cambridge. In addition to attending class in Cambridge, students will also visit multiple other sites and cities throughout the UK including ... (click for more)

2 People Shot And Killed On 12th Street After 1 Car Chases Another; 1 Vehicle Crashes Near Willow Street

Two people were shot and killed in the 2100 block of E. 12th Street on Friday night in an incident in which one vehicle was chasing another. One of the vehicles crashed, landing on another car near Willow Street. Two people in the car that wrecked were dead when officers arrived. Police said the incident happened around 8:15 p.m. Police are looking for suspects in the ... (click for more)

School Board Approves 4-Year Contract Extension With Independent Bus Drivers, Who Say They Can Handle 100 Routes; Extension Given On Custodial Contract

The county school board on Thursday night extended the contract by four years of school bus owner operators, who said they could deliver on 100 bus routes. The board delayed until a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Central High School the issue of whether to accept the offer of 100 contract routes. That would be handled by many of the current 49 owner operators taking ... (click for more)

Bakewell Mountain Community Thanks Commissioner Fairbanks

The residents of Bakewell Mountain want to formally thank Commissioner Randy Fairbanks for standing up for our community in protecting our property rights and families. He personally made several trips to our properties and homes to see how the proposed gun range would affect our daily lives with noise, traffic, and a decrease in property values. Sometimes the little guys need ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Lady Remembers Rex

Kevin Roden sits on the City Council in Denton, Texas (think the Dallas-Fort Worth airport area in the northeastern part of the state) and he is gearing up to run for a third term this spring. He’s already got his website up and, while the election isn’t until April, he writes on his blog every now and then. Last month he let his wife take a turn at it, which brings us to yesterday’s ... (click for more)