ACLU calls on Tenn. school to reinstate LGBT ‘safe space’ classroom posters

Staff Reports

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is asking the Rutherford County school board in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to reconsider a decision to take down posters identifying classrooms as safe spaces for LGBT students.

According to the ACLU, the posters were hung at Central Magnet School at the request of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. They hung alongside posters from other student groups for the majority of the last school year.

Safe space classroom poster (Click image to enlarge.)

Members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance student organization requested last year that teachers display the posters in classrooms. The posters, designed by GLSEN, were hung without incident alongside posters from other student groups for the majority of the prior school year.

The GLSEN poster states, “This is a safe and inclusive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies. All students deserve a safe and welcoming school environment.”

The school board, speaking through its attorney, claimed that the poster’s content is of an inappropriate sexual nature because it contains the words “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” In the same conversation, the school board’s attorney stated that the poster is inappropriately political in nature.

In a letter to the school board on Thursday, the ACLU called the claims an “obvious mischaracterization” that claim “grossly misconstrues the nature of the poster.”

“Removal of these posters is a violation of the free speech rights of students and teachers,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN Legal Director. “Permitting some student groups but not others to display posters amounts to unconstitutional, discriminatory censorship.”

According to GLSEN’s “2011 Tennessee State Snapshot,” 88 percent of LGBT students in Tennessee have been verbally harassed and 43 percent have been physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

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“Removing a GLSEN Safe Space poster that promotes a positive learning environment free from bullying and harassment is alarming given that a majority of LGBT students in Tennessee report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director.

A call by The Associated Press to the school board’s attorney on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the school board can be found here (PDF).

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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