After An Administrator Stopped High School Students From Supporting LGBT Classmates, One Girl Took Action June 12, 2012

After An Administrator Stopped High School Students From Supporting LGBT Classmates, One Girl Took Action

At Hardin County High School in Tennessee, a student wearing a shirt saying “Lesbian and Proud” was told to turn her shirt inside-out by Assistant Principal Ryan Miller because the school’s dress code “prohibit[ed] students from ‘advertising’ or ‘promoting’ sex.” Then he threatened to suspend her if she didn’t follow orders.

When students, in response, wanted to organize a “Week of Pride” that involved wearing shirts with rainbows on them or phrases like “GLBT” or “I Love My Gay Friends,” the same assistant principal threatened them with “suspension, class failure, and disqualification from graduation.”

Isabella Nuzzo, a student at the school, finally had enough so she contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Isabella Nuzzo (via SPLC)

The SPLC attorneys sent the principal and superintendent a long letter that included the following message (PDF):

Isabella is not gay, but desires to express her viewpoint that LGBT people should be treated equally and with respect. On behalf of Isabella, we write to notify you that unless the Board of Education overturns Mr. Miller’s censorship and interpretation of the District dress code, we will file a federal lawsuit on her behalf seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

If we do not receive a timely response, we will understand that the Board has ratified Mr. Miller’s actions and his interpretation of Board policy as applied to the speech at issue, and we will proceed accordingly.

Just like that, schools officials apologized and announced that LGBT-supportive shirts are no longer prohibited!

Following the SPLC’s May 17 letter, an attorney for the Hardin County School District confirmed in writing that “all students within the District may peacefully display non-vulgar expressions in support of LGBT people so long as such displays do not materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or otherwise collide with the rights of others.”

“I feel overwhelmed at this success,” Isabella said. “This shows that we can make a positive impact at school and if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere. This victory is for my gay friends at Hardin County High School and for LGBT people throughout Tennessee who deserve an equal and respected place in our communities.”

Congratulations to the students of Hardin County High School for standing up in support of their friends and classmates! It’s so nice to see high school kids willing to put themselves out there in order to be there for a friend.

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  • The assistant principal is operating under the false assumption that being LGBT is singularly about sex. If someone were to wear a shirt that said, “Straight and Proud,” nothing would have been said. It’s almost as if someone is LGBT, it means that they automatically go around having sex all the time. And this is coming from a bisexual woman who has never physically been with a woman.

  •  Exactly. Same deal with people who freak out over gay couples because “all I can imagine is them having sex.” That’s understandably an uncomfortable image (depending on the couple). All I ask is that they imagine _every_ hetero couple they meet having sex and see how well that works for them.

  • Thegoodman

    It seems like the opposition to LGBT rights have far too much interest in the sex lives of the LGBT movement. Like you said, its not as if straight people are defined by the sex they do (or don’t) have.

  • w00t!

  • You’re absolutely right.

  • Duke OfOmnium

    Playing devil’s advocate, so to speak, I think that a “straight and proud” may have drawn the same response.  I strongly suspect that if I, a straight male, wore a “straight and proud” shirt in public, women would inevitably think I was trolling for sex, and, as a lagniappe, LGBT’s would undoubtedly see it as expressing hostility toward them.  

  • Many conservatives seem to have the impression that being gay is about gay sex.  Ultimately, sexual orientation is about who you want to have sex with, but the “having sex” part takes up about the same part of your life as it does if you’re straight.

    Consider the picture of the gay parents in the JC Penney ad that was posted on this blog a few days ago.  Are those men gay?  Yup.  Are they having gay sex in that picture?  Nope.  And yet that is an aspect of the gay lifestyle that many LGBT people are trying to get the right to create.  It’s not about sex, but about love, the type of person with whom you want to create a loving partnership that includes sex.

    The amazing thing is that gays are denied so many rights: protections in the workplace, protections in renting property, the right to grant a chosen partner the right to make medical decisions, the right to adopt or foster children.  These rights are not about gay sex.  When a gay person wants the right to work without being fired because of their sexual orientation, he or she is not demanding the right to engage in sex in the copier room.  

  • I so admire Isabella and all the students who stood up for LGBT rights and respect. Mr. Miller should be sitting at a small desk taking lessons in humanity, courage, and integrity from this young woman.  I hope that he has gained more than just a lesson in First Amendment rights.

    Also my deep thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • anon101

    Somebody (male) should go to an atheist or skeptic convention that
    has an anti-harassment policy in place and wear such a shirt
    (straight and proud) and see if somebody complains and what happens

  • AxeGrrl

    I have to say, I am SO impressed with the number of youth activists we’re hearing about lately!  It’s incredibly inspiring to know that there are so many young people who are brave enough to stand up knowing the hostility they’ll probably face as a result…..

    I can’t give them enough kudos.  With such adults-of-the-future out there, the future looks bright 🙂

  • Wildrumpus67

    For Science!

  • of course it doesn’t “work for them.” you know who thinks about gay sex all the time? repressed closet cases who aren’t getting any of the kind they really want. str8 people think about str8 sex, as frequently as their psychology allows. same deal with gay folks. if they’re worried about the “uncomfortable” image in their heads when they imagine gay sex, they should ask themselves why that is. normal, healthy people feel good about the sexual imagery that excites them.

  • call this a silver lining in the black cloud of this economy. asshole school admins are much less willing to use limited money defending xtian hate. in good times they are frequently arrogant enough to do so, even when they know they’ll eventually lose. 

  • Patterrssonn

    People would probably just think the guy’s being a dick, which he would be, just as if some dickhead wore a white pride t-shirt.

  •  Antigay people are unnaturally obsessed with gay sex.  What they need is therapy.  Instead they demand (and often get) antigay legislation.

  • High school administrators are used to acting with the impunity of someone who knows there’s nobody watching.  That is coming to an end, and not a moment too soon.

  •  Good point. Maybe we can get it to be considered as an official psychiatric condition when heterosexuals are obsessed with thinking/talking/protesting about gay sex. Now THAT would be an awesome turn of the tables.

  • There is a double-standard, but personally I think it is understandable and perhaps even appropriate.

    When for many years a minority group is discriminated against in more ways than I can imagine, and is continually told that they are less good, less worthy, less valued, etc., then I think society realizes it’s ok (even desirable) when some members of the minority group reject the self-loathing and instead express that they can actually take pride in who they are.

    (Thus, the shirts that say “Black is Beautiful”, “Gay and Proud”. )

    Conversely, I am a straight white male, so if I wore shirts saying “White is Beautiful” or “Straight and Proud”, it would probably be seen as an assertion of smug superiority.

    Thus, the cultural context can make the minority’s self-promotion a force for equality, while the majority’s self-promotion a force against equality. Like it or not, there are double-standards, and they are not entirely unwarranted.

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