Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit Against Ohio School on Behalf of Gay Student

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April 3, 2012
Christopher Clark

“The school has not offered – and cannot offer – any legitimate reason for threatening Maverick with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he’s gay.”

(Cincinnati, OH, Tuesday, April 3, 2012) – Today, Lambda Legal filed papers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio on behalf of Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior who was threatened with suspension if he wears a T-shirt bearing the message “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe.”

“Schools should be in the business of educating students about First Amendment freedoms, not trampling on their right to express themselves,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “The school has not offered – and cannot offer – any legitimate reason for threatening Maverick with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he’s gay.”

Last April, Maverick wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or “sign of the fish,” and a slogan that says “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” in observation of GLSEN's National Day of Silence. The school principal, Mr. Randy Gebhardt, called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out; Maverick complied. Over the summer, Maverick further researched his First Amendment rights, and when school resumed in the fall of 2011, he approached the school principal seeking permission to wear the T-shirt. Mr. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Mr. Gebhardt outlining the legal precedent supporting Maverick’s right to wear the shirt, to which the school district issued the response, “…the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

In the papers filed in court today Lambda Legal argues that the Waynesville School District violated the First Amendment and well settled legal precedent supporting students’ free speech. Lambda has asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the school from further interference with Maverick’s First Amendment rights.

You can read more information on the case, as well as see the T-shirt at our case page here: Couch v. Wayne Local School District

“I’ve been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight” said Maverick Couch. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment."

Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by Lisa T. Meeks with Newman & Meeks based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Contact Info

Erik Roldan Cell: 312-545-8140; Email: eroldan@lambdalegal.org

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

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