Ohio school to let gay student wear controversial T-shirt for 1 day

April 5, 2012 - 9:18 AM
Lawsuit Gay Student

This photo released by Lambda Legal shows Maverick Couch Tuesday, April 3, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Couch, a gay student whose southwest Ohio high school prohibited him from wearing a T-shirt designed to urge tolerance of gays is suing the school, saying it's violating his freedom of expression right. (AP Photo/Lambda Legal)

CINCINNATI (AP) — A gay student who sued his public high school for prohibiting him from wearing a T-shirt designed to urge tolerance of gays will be allowed to wear the shirt for at least one day.

The southwest Ohio school district agreed in a conference between attorneys and the judge to let 16-year-old Maverick Couch wear the shirt bearing the message "Jesus Is Not A Homophobe" on April 20, according to federal court records. But Couch's lawsuit charging that Waynesville High School and the Wayne Local School District are violating his freedom of expression rights is proceeding.

Officials at the southwest Ohio public school had told Couch he couldn't wear the shirt because it was "sexual in nature," indecent and inappropriate at school, the lawsuit says.

April 20 is the Day of Silence, an annual event protesting the bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Couch had said he wanted to wear the shirt to "promote respect for all students, gay or straight."

"We're glad that Maverick is able to wear his shirt on April 20," Couch's attorney, Christopher Clark, said. "However, 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."

Clark is an attorney with the civil rights group Lambda Legal, which is assisting Couch in the lawsuit against the school, located 35 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

School District Superintendent Patrick Dubbs would say only that "progress was made" in the case and that numerous issues "remain to be resolved." Another telephone conference in the case is set for May 2, according to court records.

Couch said he wore the shirt, which also bears the image of a rainbow-colored fish similar to a religious symbol used by Christians, last April and was told by the high school principal to turn it inside out. He said he complied but was threatened with suspension if he tried to wear it again.

Couch said that school officials on other occasions told him the shirt would be disruptive and that it was too religious.

The lawsuit charges that the actions of officials in the district violate Couch's constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. It asks the U.S. District Court to order school officials to allow Couch to wear the shirt and to pay him unspecified "nominal" damages and attorneys' fees.