A lesbian teenager from Florida is suing her school board for not permitting her to participate in the National Day of Silence, a campaign to raise awareness for queer youth.
“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 16-year-old Amber Hatcher. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment.”
In 2011, Hatcher asked her principal, Shannon Fusco, for permission to participate in the Day of Silence. She was denied and told that if she did participate, she would face “ramifications."
Hatcher then went to the superintendent of the DeSoto County School District, Adrian Cline, asking him to overrule Fusco’s decision, but Cline backed the principal.
Seeking legal advice, Hatcher went to Lambda Legal, which sent a letter to Hatcher’s school reminding them that Hatcher has a constitutional right to participate in the campaign. Fusco ignored the letter and on April 19 sent an email to teachers telling them to send any students who were keeping quiet to her office.
The next day, Hatcher came to school dressed in a shirt that read “DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh” and communicated by dry-erase board. She was sent to Fusco’s office and suspended. She was also warned that she could not participate in the campaign this year.
Lambda Legal is asking the court to prohibit the school from interfering with Hatcher’s First Amendment right to free speech, which includes no speech, if she should so choose.
“The school should be working to help support LGBT students rather than punishing students who are standing up against bullying,” attorney Beth Littrell said. “By threatening, censoring and punishing Amber for her efforts to simply raise awareness, school officials disregarded her rights as well as the Constitution.”