by Hannah McCartney
Federal court orders district to pay $20,000 in damages and costs for banning teen's shirt
A federal court judge in Cincinnati ruled Monday that gay Ohio student Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear his "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" T-shirt to school whenever he pleases. Wayne Local School District, the district in which Couch attends high school, will also be required to pay Couch $20,000 in damages and court costs, according to Judge Michael Barrett's ruling. Couch was first prevented from wearing the T-shirt in April 2011, when he showed up to school in the shirt during a "Day of Silence," meant to raise awareness of cases in which gay students are victims of bullying. Waynesville High School Principal Randy Gebhardt allegedly told Couch that he needed to either wear the T-shirt inside out or remove it, stating that the "T-shirt had to do with religion, religion and state have to be separate," and the T-shirt was "disrupting the educational process." Couch complied, and was asked to remove the shirt when he wore it to school a second time. Principal Gebhardt threatened to suspend Couch if the shirt was worn again. Couch and Lambda Legal Defense, a legal organization focused on protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community, brought forth a lawsuit against Wayne Local School District on April 3, 2012, alleging that Couch's first amendment rights had been egregiously violated in barring him from wearing the shirt. Only a day after the lawsuit was filed, administrators at Waynesville High School told Couch he'd be allowed to wear the T-shirt annually on one day exclusively: "Day of Silence," which took place April 20. "I just wanted to wear my shirt. The shirt is a statement
of pride, and I hope other students like me know that they can be proud,
too," said Couch, according to lamdalegal.org. When Lambda Legal sent a letter inquiring about Couch's First Amendment rights to the school district, this was the district's response: "the message communicated by the student's T-shirt was sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in the school." For information about LGBTQ students' rights in schools, click here.