An openly lesbian student on Tuesday sued her high school in Florida after she was suspended for participating in an anti-bullying event.
“There are many LGBT kids in my school who have been bullied and harassed and who feel unsafe,” Amber Hatcher, 16, said. “I just wanted to stand up for all the kids in my school, gay or straight, who don’t feel like they have a voice to stand up for themselves. I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”
Hatcher, who is being represented by Lambda Legal, alleged the DeSoto County High School in Arcadia violated her First Amendment rights of freedom of expression.
She had asked permission last year to observe the National Day of Silence nearly a month before the event, according to the lawsuit (PDF), but the school’s principal said “peaceful protests” were “against District Policy.” Hatcher appealed to school district officials, but was again told that participating in the National Day of Silence was not allowed.
The day before the event, the principal called Hatcher out of class to warn her of “disciplinary consequences” if she observed the annual anti-bullying event. The principal also called her parents to tell them their daughter was prohibited from participating in the National Day of Silence.
She arrived to school on the following day wearing a red T-shirt with the message “DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh” and communicated using a dry-erase board. The dean of students punished Hatcher with an in-school suspension. The lawsuit claimed Hatcher’s activities in no way disrupted the classroom.
“DeSoto County Schools is practicing the very kind of harassment and discrimination the Day of Silence is designed to address in schools,” said Dr. Eliza Byard of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which sponsors the event.
“By participating in the Day of Silence, students across the country are directing attention to the reality that LGBT youth experience a disproportionate amount of bullying and harassment in schools.”
Lambda Legal previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of an openly gay junior at Waynesville High School in Ohio who was also prohibited from participating in the National Day of Silence. Last year, The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio affirmed the student’s First Amendment right to wear a t-shirt with the slogan “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe” to school.
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