Ohio School Changes Position In Lambda Legal Case Defending Student’s Right to Wear T-Shirt
(Cincinnati, OH, April 4, 2012) – Today, in a status conference with Judge Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, the Wayne Local School District agreed to permit Maverick Couch to wear his T-shirt bearing the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” on one day only, GLSEN’s National Day of Silence, while the case proceeds. The Wayne Local School District made this concession after Lambda Legal filed suit and a motion for a temporary restraining order on Tuesday on behalf of Maverick, an openly gay junior who was threatened with suspension if he wore the T-shirt.
“We’re glad that Maverick is able to wear his shirt on April 20th,” said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “However, a student’s First Amendment rights are not restricted to one day of the year – we will continue to fight until Maverick is allowed to express who he is on any day he chooses.”
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 for Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio, Mr. Randy Gebhardt, called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out or face disciplinary action; Maverick complied. 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.” On Tuesday, April 3, 2012, Lambda Legal filed suit, arguing that the Waynesville School District violated the First Amendment and well settled legal precedent supporting students’ free speech. The suit also asked the Court to issue an immediate temporary restraining order allowing Maverick to wear the T-shirt while the Court resolved the First Amendment issues. Rather than oppose the request for a restraining order, the school district agreed to allow Maverick to wear the T-shirt on April 20th while the case proceeds.
You can read more information on the case, as well as see the T-shirt at our case page here: www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/couch-v-wayne-local-school-district
This year, National Day of Silence falls on April 20. This is an annual event sponsored by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to raise awareness of LGBT issues in schools.
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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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.