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April 6. 2012

Student sues school for banning pro-gay T-shirt

Cincinnati--A gay high school student has filed a federal lawsuit against his school district, claiming they violated his constitutional right to wear a T-shirt declaring “Jesus is Not a Homophobe.”

The student, Maverick Couch, is suing the Wayne Local School District and Waynesville High School principal Randy Gebhardt. He is seeking an  injunction to restrain the school from interfering with his right to wear the shirt, and monetary damages.

The suit was filed April 3 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. Lambda Legal is representing Couch with Cincinnati attorney Lisa Meeks.

Waynesville is in northern Warren County, about 15 miles southeast of Dayton, in a socially conservative area of the state.

According to the complaint, in April, 2011, Couch wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or sign of the fish, and the slogan to observe the National Day of Silence.

Gebhardt called Couch to his office and instructed him to turn the shirt inside out. Couch complied.

Couch discovered that he should have the right to wear the T-shirt, and wore it again the next day. He was again summoned to the principal’s office, his mother was called into the school, and was told to remove the shirt or face suspension. Couch again complied.

Over the summer, Couch learned that the First Amendment protects his right to wear the shirt. When school resumed in the fall of 2011, he approached Gebhardt for permission to wear it.

Mr. Gebhardt threatened Couch with suspension if he wore the shirt.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Gebhardt supporting Couch’s right to wear the shirt.

The school district responded, “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 [Couch] with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he’s gay.

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