Tennessee high school student Chris Sigler was right when he felt the need to instate a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club at his Monroe County High School. Unfortunately, his attempt to promote a safe environment for LGBT students was met with hostility.
When Sigler wore his handmade T-shirt to school last Tuesday he was asked by a teacher if he would cover the words “Gay-Straight Alliance: We’ve Got Your Back” that he had drawn on to the back. Students allegedly made complaints to administrators about the shirt. Sigler, aware of his rights to free speech and sure that he was not in violation of any school dress code, refused to remove the T-shirt and wore it to school again on the following Friday.
After asking Sigler once again to remove the T-shirt to no effect, the school’s principal took matters in to his own hands—literally. Chris Sigler’s statement, released by the ACLU, reads:
“Principal Maurice Moser came to Sigler’s economic class in the middle of an exam, and demanded that all other students leave the room. Sigler’s sister Jessica refused to leave. Both siblings said Moser grabbed Chris’s arm, shoved him against a wall, and chest-bumped him several times, while asking, ‘Who’s the big man now?’”
The ACLU has been supporting Sigler in his case against the administration at Sequoyah High School and assisting him with his original goal of creating a GSA.
“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal. Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee.
Tricia Herzfeld, Legal Director for the ACLU of Tennessee, and Amanda C. Goad, Staff Attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project, wrote a letter to Michael Lowry, Director of Monroe County Schools, ordering a written statement by October 11. Among its demands, the letter requested that “any Sequoyah High School student to wear clothing or accessories that peacefully express an opinion regarding the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance [remain] free from threats of discipline or physical intimidation or assault.”