Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit against a Florida school district that suspended a lesbian student for participating in the National Day of Silence.
Last April, 16-year-old Amber Hatcher requested to participate in the Day of Silence, a GLSEN-sponsored campaign that raises awareness of LGBT bullying and harassment by having students remain quiet for an entire day.
Nearly a month before the April 20 event, Hatcher asked for permission from principal Shannon Fusco, who threatened her with “ramifications” if she participated. Undeterred, Hatcher approached DeSoto County School Superintendent Adrian Cline, who refused to meet with her and backed Fusco.
A strongly worded letter from Lambda Legal sent on April 19, 2011, reminded the school that Amber had a constitutional right to observe National Day of Silence. Ignoring the letter, Fusco sent an email telling teachers to send any students who appeared to be observing the campaign to her office.
Wearing a shirt with the message, “DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh,” Hatcher came to school on National Day of Silence and communicated by dry-erase board. She was sent to Fusco’s office and suspended for the day. She has been told not to participate in the event this year.
“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,” said Hatcher. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”
Lambda Legal is asking the court to prohibit the school from interfering with Hatcher’s First Amendment right to free speech—or silence, as the case may be.
“The school should be working to help support LGBT students rather than punishing students who are standing up against bullying,” said Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell. “By threatening, censoring and punishing Amber for her efforts to simply raise awareness, school officials disregarded her rights as well as the Constitution.”