BY NATASHA BARSOTTI – Gay Ohio high schooler Maverick
Couch has won the right to wear his once-prohibited 'Jesus Is Not a Homophobe'
T-shirt to school when he pleases — and will collect $20,000 in damages and
court costs from his school district.
Couch tried last spring, and then again this year, to
wear the shirt in recognition of the national Day of Silence on April 20, to
highlight how queer students are bullied into keeping their heads down.
But after his Waynesville High School principal, Randy
Gebhardt, threatened him with suspension if he tried to wear the offending shirt
a third time, Couch turned to the courts for relief, with the help of Lambda
"I've been bullied and called names. I wanted to
wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight,"
Couch said, according to an April 4 Gay Star News report. "I wish my school
would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out
Couch filed a lawsuit, plus a motion for a temporary
restraining order, against the school district, which temporarily relented and said the then-junior could don the shirt for one day.
Not good enough, said Couch's lawyers.
A student's First Amendment rights are not restricted to
one day of the year. "We will continue to fight until Maverick is allowed
to express who he is on any day he chooses."
Mission accomplished just more than a year later.
Lambda Legal attorney Christopher Clark to Gay Star News: "If school officials had any doubt before, it's clear now. First Amendment rights apply to all students on every day of the year, and efforts to silence LGBT youth will not go unchallenged."