At Hardin County High School in Tennessee, a student wearing a shirt saying “Lesbian and Proud” was told to turn her shirt inside-out by Assistant Principal Ryan Miller because the school’s dress code “prohibit[ed] students from ‘advertising’ or ‘promoting’ sex.” Then he threatened to suspend her if she didn’t follow orders.
When students, in response, wanted to organize a “Week of Pride” that involved wearing shirts with rainbows on them or phrases like “GLBT” or “I Love My Gay Friends,” the same assistant principal threatened them with “suspension, class failure, and disqualification from graduation.”
Isabella Nuzzo, a student at the school, finally had enough so she contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The SPLC attorneys sent the principal and superintendent a long letter that included the following message (PDF):
Isabella is not gay, but desires to express her viewpoint that LGBT people should be treated equally and with respect. On behalf of Isabella, we write to notify you that unless the Board of Education overturns Mr. Miller’s censorship and interpretation of the District dress code, we will file a federal lawsuit on her behalf seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
If we do not receive a timely response, we will understand that the Board has ratified Mr. Miller’s actions and his interpretation of Board policy as applied to the speech at issue, and we will proceed accordingly.
Following the SPLC’s May 17 letter, an attorney for the Hardin County School District confirmed in writing that “all students within the District may peacefully display non-vulgar expressions in support of LGBT people so long as such displays do not materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or otherwise collide with the rights of others.”
“I feel overwhelmed at this success,” Isabella said. “This shows that we can make a positive impact at school and if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. This victory is for my gay friends at Hardin County High School and for LGBT people throughout Tennessee who deserve an equal and respected place in our communities.”
Congratulations to the students of Hardin County High School for standing up in support of their friends and classmates! It’s so nice to see high school kids willing to put themselves out there in order to be there for a friend.