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School sued over student's right to wear pro-gay T-shirt

Ohio school claimed 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe' shirt was sexual in nature

Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on Tuesday (3 April) against a high school in Ohio after a student was barred from wearing a T-shirt stating 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe' to school on National Day of Silence.

The openly-gay student, Maverick Couch, was called into the principal's office of Waynesville High School last April and told to turn his T-shirt inside out. In addition to the slogan, the shirt also had a a rainbow Ichthys (or 'sign of the fish').

After going home and researching the matter, Couch believed he had the right to wear the shirt so he wore it to school again the next day. This time, Principal Randy Gebhardt told the student, whose mother was called to the school in Waynesville, Ohio, that he needed to remove the shirt or be suspended.

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

Couch researched his First Amendment rights over the summer and when he returned to school in the fall to begin his junior year, he again asked Gebhardt what would happen if he wore the 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe' T-shirt.

After being told he would be suspended, the student contacted Lambda Legal, the US-based organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV.

After Lambda Legal sent a letter to the Southern District of Ohio informing them that the student had the legal right to wear the shirt under the First Amendment, the school district stated the principal acted correctly because '…the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.'

It was then that Lambda Legal decided to sue.

'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.'

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