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School principal allegedly shoves kid who wants gay-straight alliance

October 20, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
:Last month a principal at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn., allegedly grabbed and shoved a kid wearing a homemade T-shirt in support of a "gay-straight alliance" at the school and asked him "Who's the big man now?" The boy is straight but his sister is bisexual and has been bullied at school. She stayed and witnessed the alleged shoving match.

The parents of the teens have filed a complaint with the local sheriff's department and the ACLU is taking up the boy's cause as a freedom of speech issue.

There's probably a lot more to the story. Apparently the school administration has refused to permit kids to form a "gay-straight alliance," a group of gay students and heterosexual students who are in support of gay students' right not to be bullied and to be themselves in school. One story I saw indicated that the school turned down the group because it couldn't find a faculty member willing to sponsor the club. The principal had threatened to punish any kid that continued to ask for the gay-straight alliance or wore the shirt. The boy in question defied the principal and wore a shirt to school three days later, which resulted in the alleged shoving match. This week the school agreed to allow kids to wear the T-shirts, but the school district lawyer disputes the boy's account of the shoving match.

If the facts are as presented, the school appears to be in the wrong here. Provided they are not disruptive, kids have a right to freedom of speech in school and wearing a T-shirt asking for a gay-straight alliance qualifies as free speech. Legally, the school is probably also required to permit a gay-straight alliance if it allows other extracurricular clubs a meeting space.

That said, I'm not all that surprised by this story about what the principal is reported to have done. I am going to be very interested to see what happens with this case. I hope the kid wins and the principal has to back down. By pressing forward, the kid is teaching his fellow students a valuable lesson in freedom of speech when it's unpopular and not always safe.

 
 

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