Your Speech Rights at School
If you attend a public school, your right to express yourself is protected by the constitution under the First Amendment. (If you are a private school student, click here.)
- The right to speak (or not speak) words relating to your identity and gender
- The right to share written materials with others and to wear pro-LGBTQ messages and images on clothing, buttons, or jewelry, without censorship or discrimination
- Students’ right to come out or self-identify as LGBTQ or as allies. In most cases, the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment also protect students’ right to form groups like gay-straight alliances and to participate in events like GLSEN's Day of Silence.
- Also, your school may not discriminate based on particular ideas by imposing extra restrictions or procedural hurdles.
Your public school would be violating the First Amendment if it generally allowed students to wear written messages on their T-shirts but required students to receive prior approval for T-shirts supporting LGBTQ equality.
Another thing to remember about your right to free speech: There is nothing “sexual” about discussing inclusion and respect; nor is there anything “sexual” about opposing harassment, discrimination and violence. In 2008 and 2009, three federal courts flatly rejected claims that LGBTQ-supportive student expression could be restricted because it was "inappropriately sexual" or interfered with an abstinence-only curriculum.
With regard to public displays of affection, school limits must apply to everyone, not just LGBTQ students. Expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity generally fall under First Amendment protections.
For more information about a particular jurisdiction, contact Lambda Legal at www.lambdalegal.org/help.