NEW YORK - April 3, 2012 - The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and its Greater Cincinnati and Dayton chapters today expressed support for openly gay student Maverick Couch at Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio who is challenging his school with a federal lawsuit in response to potential disciplinary action for wearing a T-shirt in support of GLSEN's upcoming Day of Silence on April 20, 2012.
"Schools should be places of learning and development and that includes a student's right to express who they are and what they believe in," said GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard. "It's regrettable the Wayne Local School District threatened Maverick with disciplinary action for expressing his support of the Day of Silence and its goal of drawing attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. It seems however, the school district is engaging in the very kind of bullying that creates unsafe school climates."
In April 2011, Maverick wore a T-shirt in support of the National Day of Silence, a day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Maverick's Day of Silence T-shirt featured a rainbow Icthys, or "sign of the fish," and a slogan that stated "Jesus is Not a Homophobe." High school principal Mr. Randy Gebhardt instructed Maverick to turn the T-shirt inside out or face suspension.
This past Fall, Maverick again sought permission from the principal to wear the T-shirt, but was threatened with disciplinary action. Maverick later reached out for help to Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for the civil rights of LGBT people, which has previously provided legal assistance to students organizing the Day of Silence.
To learn more about students' legal rights to organize and/or participate in the Day of Silence, please read National Day of Silence: The Freedom to Speak (Or Not) authored by Lambda Legal.
In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Mr. Gebhardt explaining Maverick's right to wear the T-shirt. The school district responded to the letter stating that Maverick's T-shirt was "...sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting."
Today Lambda Legal filed papers in court arguing the Wayne Local School District violated Maverick's First Amendment rights, which has been previously shown to support students' free speech. Lambda Legal has asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the school from further interference with Maverick's First Amendment rights.
Learn more about the lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal: Couch v. Wayne Local School District.
"GLSEN's Day of Silence sheds light on the experiences of LGBT students in Ohio's schools," said GLSEN Greater Cincinnati Co-chair Josh Wagoner. "9 in 10 LGBT students in Ohio's schools experience harassment simply because of their sexual orientation. These findings guide our GLSEN chapters in Cincinnati, Dayton and Northeast Ohio to provide resources and support that will ensure safer schools for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression."
According to an Ohio research brief based on data from GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, about 9 in 10 LGBT students in Ohio's schools experience harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 1 in 4 experience physical assault (e.g., punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation.
For more findings on the experiences of LGBT students in Ohio's schools, please read GLSEN's Ohio Research Brief.
Students who experience any resistance to Day of Silence organizing or activities from school staff can submit an incident report to GLSEN.
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy, student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.