MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of Sequoya High School in Madisonville, Tenn., where senior Nathan Carroll was attempting to start a Gay Straight Alliance.
After starting a petition in the school for the GSA, Nathan was threatened with suspension should he continue to pursue that course of action.
I followed up by speaking with Principal Maurice Moser, who informed me that the only reason the GSA was not possible was due to the fact they couldn’t find a faculty sponsor. Moser went on to accidentally inform me that he’d assisted other clubs with finding one, and when I pressed him to find out why he wasn’t helping these students, he became very flustered and combative.
On Tuesday, the ACLU is reporting that Moser has assaulted one of his students for wearing a t-shirt promoting the Gay Straight Alliance. Chris Sigler, a 17-year-old Senior, was reportedly shoved, bumped in the chest and verbally harassed by Moser for wearing the t-shirt that said “GSA: We’ve got your back.”
“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee.
“Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School. Given this context, it’s especially important that supportive voices like Sigler’s can be heard in order to overcome the school’s resistance to a GSA.”
According to the ACLU statement, a teacher ordered Sigler to cover up the shirt in the future after he wore it Tuesday. Sigler, knowing he had a right to wear the shirt, wore it again Friday, and resisted an order to remove the shirt.
Sigler says that Moser then ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler’s sister Jessica, who refused to leave. According to both students, Moser then grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and chest-bumped him repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?”
Sigler’s mother reported that when she arrived at the school, she saw her son seated in a desk with Moser leaning over him and shouting in Sigler’s face. The Siglers filed a report about the incident that afternoon with the Madisonville Police Department.
“All I want is to have a GSA at my school to help stop the bullying against gays and lesbians and their friends who support them,” Sigler said.
“The shirt was a way to use my voice and show my support for the club. The way I was treated shows even more why we need a GSA here.”
“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment. Harassment, abuse or censorship of any student – regardless of sexual orientation – is absolutely reprehensible as well as illegal,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We expect the police to investigate this quickly and fairly, and take statements from all witnesses who were present.”
The ACLU has sent a demand letter to the school district can be viewed here.
Though the ACLU can only really protect these students’ constitutional rights, this physical and verbal intimidation from the principal of the school must be met with stronger action and a call for the principal’s resignation. If the story is true, Moser should be arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. If this is the example being set for students in a time when bullying has become fatal, this is a man who should not be in charge of a school.
Update: Petition launched at Change.org
Sources say that the anti-gay hatred in Monroe County runs deep. One source claimed that churches in the area were telling parishioners to fight the GSA as hard as they can. Another source indicated that religious corruption has dictated governmental affairs there for a long time.
The Tennessee Equality Project has created a Change.org petition demanding a full and fair investigation into the assault. It seems when the Monroe County Sheriff questioned individuals involved in the incident, he left out the only non-participatory witness, Chris’ sister.
The petition states:
“The Sigler family filed report about the assault which is being investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies interviewed Chris Sigler, his teacher and Principal Mosby, but did not question Jessica Sigler who witnessed the entire incident. Given the level of intimidation and hostility that GSA-supportive students have experienced in recent weeks, TEP believes that the Sheriff is not fully and fairly investigating the assault of Chris Sigler by his Principal by leaving a key witness out of the investigation.”