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."


57 Chattanooga State Global Scholars Reach Celebration Point

The Global Scholars Program, Chattanooga State’s academic honors program, provides students with the opportunity to gain a global perspective and awareness through a deeper and more complex, connected, and contextualized college experience. Global scholars are a part of a learning community comprised of students from all academic majors and programs. Students take classes together, ... (click for more)

GPS Holds Commencement 2017

The GPS Class of 2017 was lauded but also challenged at the Commencement ceremony held on Friday. Most of all, they were celebrated – by their families, their friends, and the faculty.  Head of School Dr. Autumn Graves acknowledged the students’ accomplishments and quoted from the girls’ chapel talks to illustrate the wisdom, thoughtfulness, thankfulness, and realizations ... (click for more)

Erlanger Expects $5 Million Profit Despite "Very Challenging" Budget

Erlanger Health System officials said they expect a $5 million profit for the upcoming fiscal year despite a "very challenging" budget. Britt Tabor, chief financial officer, said there will be continued top line growth, which has brought a 51 percent rise in patient revenue over the past five years. "This is organic growth. It's not from mergers or acquisitions," Mr. Tabor ... (click for more)

Public Defender Says Another Entity Needs To Continue Funding For New Mental Health Court

Public Defender Steve Smith said another entity needs to take over funding the new Mental Health Court. He said Criminal Court Judge Don Poole has agreed to oversee the court and will make a budget presentation to the County Commission on May 31. Mr. Smith told members of the Pachyderm Club on Monday that he has been funding the program through the services of Anna Protano ... (click for more)

Tennessee Business Expansions On Rise Across State

In 2016, Tennessee was named State of the Year for Economic Development by Southern Business & Development Magazine based on project totals and the variety of industries that invested in the state and created jobs. To a great extent, Bradley and Polk Counties have benefited from that investment.   From February 2015 to February 2016, Cleveland/Bradley County led the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Public Defender And The Mental Health Court

I am holding in my hand a list of the names of 50 very real people who cost the taxpayers of Hamilton County a combined $3,037.090 in incarceration charges before July 2015. These people live in our county and I dare say it is not completely their fault that they were put in the county jail. Each has a professionally-diagnosed mental illness and today, most regretfully, the County ... (click for more)