CINCINNATI, Ohio — Lambda Legal on Tuesday filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against a Waynesville, Ohio high school on behalf of an openly gay student who was threatened with suspension for wearing a t-shirt containing the message “Jesus is not a Homophobe.”
The suit stems from an April 2011 incident at Waynesville High School, when Maverick Couch, 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.”
“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.”
In the papers filed in court Tuesday, Lamba Legal argued that the Waynesville School District violated the First Amendment and well settled legal precedent supporting 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.
“I’ve been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight” said Maverick. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”