WAYNESVILLE, Ohio — An openly gay Ohio teen, who is suing his school after being threatened with suspension for wearing a t-shirt containing the message “Jesus is not a Homophobe,” will be allowed to wear the shirt after all — but for 1 day only, a federal judge ruled this week.
In a conference with Judge Barrett of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, the Wayne Local School District agreed to permit 16-year-old Maverick Couch to wear his t-shirt 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.
“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.”
The suit stems from an April 2011 incident at Waynesville High School, when 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 National Day of Silence.
According to the suit, principal Randy Gebhardt called Maverick into his office and instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out; Maverick complied.
But over the summer, Maverick further researched his First Amendment rights, and when school resumed in the fall of 2011, he approached the school principal seeking permission to wear the T-shirt. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.
In January 2012, Lambda Legal contacted Gebhardt, and outlined the legal precedent supporting Maverick’s right to wear the shirt, to which the school district issued this 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 school district violated Maverick’s First Amendment rights, and asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order allowing Maverick to wear the T-shirt while the Court resolved the case.
Rather than oppose the request for a restraining order, the school district agreed to allow Maverick to wear the T-shirt on April 20 while the case proceeds.