- The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and its GLSEN Tampa Bay chapter expressed support for student Amber Hatcher, an openly lesbian 16-year-old in Arcadia, Florida who filed a lawsuit against DeSoto County High School after facing disciplinary action for participating in GLSEN's Day of Silence. The student was suspended for the day after wearing a T-shirt to school in support of the national day of action.
GLSEN's Day of Silence is a national day of action in which students across the country vow to take a form of silence to call attention to the silencing effects of anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying and harassment in schools.
"DeSoto County Schools is practicing the very kind of harassment and discrimination the Day of Silence is designed to address in schools," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director. "By participating in the Day of Silence, students across the country are directing attention to the reality that LGBT youth experience a disproportionate amount of bullying and harassment in schools. We stand by Amber's right to express her belief that she and the rest of her peers deserve a safer learning experience regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression."
In April 2012, Amber attempted to participate in the Day of Silence by first seeking permission from high school principal Shannon Fusco, but was told she would face "ramifications" if she took part in the national day of action. Amber appealed to the DeSoto County School Superintendent Adrian Cline on April 10th, 12th and 13th, but was refused a meeting. The Superintendent directed the principal to tell Amber that her request was "disapproved." Principal Fusco repeatedly told Amber that she could not participate in the Day of Silence and made threats if she did.
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
On April 19, 2012, Day of Silence legal partner, Lambda Legal, sent a letter to Principal Fusco and Superintendent Cline outlining Amber's legal right to observe the day. The letter was ignored and the principal sent an email to all teachers directing them to send any student found participating in the day. Amber arrived to school wearing a red t-shirt with the message "DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh" and communicated with peers and teachers by dry erase board. In response, Amber was suspended from school for the day.
Today Lambda Legal filed papers in court arguing the DeSoto County School Board of Education violated Amber'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 Amber's First Amendment rights.
Learn more about the lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal: Hatcher v. Desoto County Board of Education, et al.
Schools commonly maintain policies and practices that can contribute to negative experiences for LGBT students and make them feel less a part of the school community. One fifth of students (20.6%) who said their schools had discriminatory policies and practices said that their schools limited discussion of LGBT issues, according to GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey. Such policies and practices include the suppression of Gay-Straight Alliances and activities within the club, restrictions on LGBT-related self-expression, limits on the discussion of LGBT issues in the class and school activities, and suppression of staff support for LGBT students/issues.
For findings on the experiences of LGBT students in Florida's schools, please read GLSEN's Florida 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.