OH Student Sues School For Not Allowing Him To Wear Pro-Gay Tee Shirt

Today, Lambda Legal filed papers in a federal lawsuit against Waynesville High School in Waynesville, OH, after administrators threatened to suspend a student if he wore a tee shirt with the slogan “Jesus is Not A Homophobe.”

Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior at the school, first wore the shirt last spring in honor of National Day of Silence, when principal Randy Gebhardt told him to turn the shirt inside out (which Couch did). But after researching his First Amendment rights, Couch came back to Gebhardt in the fall and asked if he could wear the tee again. Gebhardt restated that he would be suspended if he did.

Lambda Legal is totally calling shenanigans on Gebhardt’s threat, especially considering the slogan is pretty pro-Christian:

“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 Maverick with disciplinary action. They have singled-out an intelligent, respectful student and tried to shame him just because he’s gay.”

The nonprofit sent Waynesville High a letter explaining Couch’s legal rights, but the district responded by saying “the message communicated by the student’s T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting.”

You just know if Couch wore a shirt saying “I’m saving myself for marriage,” his school would have given him a friggin’ medal.

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  • B

    How is a tee shirt saying “Jesus is not a homophobe” sexual in nature? Whatever person in the school district made that claim “by right should be taken out and hung for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue” (to quote a line from “My Fair Lady”).

  • Hyhybt

    @B: I’ve heard that claim before, over a bumper sticker with a similar symbol. The reasoning, to the extent it deserves that name, goes something like this: the shirt references homosexuality, which is all about who you want to have sex with, therefore the shirt is about sex.

    It’s nonsense, of course. But that’s the way some people think. Even, strangely enough, some people on our side.

  • B

    How about actually making a tee shirt that says, “I’m saving myself for marriage”, give it to Maverick Couch, and see what the school does? If they ban it, they’ll have all the Evangelical Christians mad at the school, and if they don’t, they’ll be hard pressed to claim that they were banning tee shirts of a sexual nature when the case goes to trial. Either way, the school district loses.

    It’s trivial to use Cafe Press or Zazzle to create a text-only tee shirt.

  • Michael

    Just because it gives the principal a hard-on does not mean it’s really sexual in nature.

  • Riker

    Legally and Constitutionally speaking, as long as the shirt does not cause a disruption to the educational process, he can wear it. That’s the standard that was set by the Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 US 503 (1969). As long as the speech isn’t obscene (Bethel School District v. Fraser) or part of a school-sponsored newspaper (Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier) or promoting illegal activities (Morse v. Frederick), or there is proof the rule was necessary to maintain discipline, there isn’t a damn thing the school can do about it.

    They’ll lose the case handily; there’s enough case law that it shouldn’t be too controversial.

  • Troy Michael

    Does anyone know how to get in touch with Maverick? If anyone sees this can you forward him to my fan page on Facebook and tell him to contact me? I’m from a brand new LGBT Reality Television Show called “The Next American Gay: Mr. Gay World USA.” I’d like to speak with him..

  • Anonymous

    Yeah well that’s the way many straight people think, especially those who are homophobic:

    heterosexuality = a man and a woman in love
    homosexuality = two men having sex

  • Curtis

    What a lucky douche. If I could be awarded an exorbitant amount money for being told I couldn’t where that t-shirt.. let me tell you, I wouldn’t have to work my ass off.

  • Curtis

    Anyway, in a court of law, the only thing that could matter is if the plaintiff can explain that a different message of sexual nature, (any) on a T-shirt, would be considered “tolerable” by the state. fucked up, right?

  • Brand

    Maverick is as Maverick does.

    The context of this shirt is religious persecution.

    I’d like to see the principal explain in a court of law why the word homophobe—which is about equal rights, about oppression and bullying and violence and victimization, about social ostracism—makes him think about sex and indecency. There is nothing indecent about standing up against religious persecution, civil disenfranchisement, oppression, bullying and violence, and social ostracism.

  • Riker

    @Curtis: Actually that’s false. If you read through the Tinker decision, available at you will see that the First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, allows freedom of speech (including symbolic speech) in public schools.

    Justice Abe Fortas’s majority opinion held that “A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments”.

    The later case Bethel School District v. Fraiser added the ability to punish for lewdness, even if it does not cross the obscenity threshold. Hazelwood added the stipulation that schools can regulate content produced in school-sponsored newspapers. Morse v. Frederick allows schools to censor speech promoting illegal activities, such as drug use. However, those are the only significant limits on freedom of speech as it pertains to a public school.

  • Curtis

    @Riker: Ever since this issue first entered a courtroom, the defense has always put their case forward, (usually under the premise that states should govern themselves. .. but your right, Its unconstitutional.

  • Adrian

    COME ON Maverick, are you for real?! You and/or your parents had to have known that your shirt would be inflamatory. The shirt mixes religion with sexual orientation, two topics public high schools don’t usually like to have their students discuss.

  • B

    No. 13 · Adrian wrote, “COME ON Maverick, are you for real?! You and/or your parents had to have known that your shirt would be inflamatory. The shirt mixes religion with sexual orientation, two topics public high schools don’t usually like to have their students discuss.”

    What’s inflammatory about it? It’s certainly less inflammatory than the Bible. Check out Matthew 11:19, which describes Jesus as follows: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

    How about that quote on a tee shirt?

  • Adrian

    @B: how about it? Maverick wasn’t wearing a t-shit with that (what you propose) writing on it – so unless he does we won’t know the outcome of your question.
    the fact is mixing religion and sexual orientation on a t-shirt wore by a high school student is inflamaroty as this situation clearly shows us.

  • Max

    *WAS NOT

  • lenoxus

    Ah, well, I’m sure that a shirt which said something about parenthood (whether for, against, or neutral) would be banned too.

    I myself get pretty squicked when someone introduces me to somone else saying “This is my mother” or “Have you met my son?” I’m as tolerant as the next person, but still, like, stop being so graphic, okay?

  • B

    No. 15 · Adrian wrote, “the fact is mixing religion and sexual orientation on a t-shirt wore by a high school student is inflamaroty as this situation clearly shows us.”

    Saying “Jesus was not a homophobe” is not “mixing religion and sexual orientation”. Rather, it simply suggests that Jesus did not suffer from a specific mental illness prevalent in an embarrassingly high number of his present-day self-proclaimed followers.

  • lenoxus

    @B: The thing about running a “control test” is that this event’s publicity would affect the outcome. It’s entirely possible that the school would ban such a shirt solely to not look hypocritical. I’m not certain of that; it could very well have been seen as inappropriately sexual even if the Jesus shirt were never word, especially since “saving myself for marriage” really and truly is only about sex.

    Still, it would be nice to try it out with two kids on the same day: One with a “saving myself” shirt and one that says something like “Gay and proud.” Get photographic evidence that both shirts were worn on the same day, make a big to-do when only one person gets in trouble. Hmm…

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