Fla. teen can wear gay-pride symbols to school

Thursday, May 15, 2008

PONCE DE LEON, Fla. — A federal judge has ruled that a north Florida teen should have been allowed to wear T-shirts and stickers that expressed support for gay rights to school.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak ruled on May 13 that the Holmes County School Board violated Heather Gillman's First Amendment rights in November when it prohibited the Ponce De Leon High School junior from wearing any gay-pride clothing, stickers, buttons or symbols.

Gillman made shirts after her openly gay cousin was suspended with a group of other students for causing disruptions in September.

“Standing up to my school was really hard to do, but I’m so happy that I did because the First Amendment is a big deal to everyone,” Gillman said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the teen.

In his ruling, Smoak said the board missed a chance to teach tolerance and diversity.

According to the ACLU’s news release, Smoak rejected the argument made by Principal David Davis during the two-day trial that the gay-rights symbol of the rainbow was “sexually suggestive.” The ACLU also noted that Davis testified he had not banned another controversial symbol, the Confederate flag, at the school.

A message left for the school district's attorney, Holly Dincman, was not returned in time for this story.

WJHG-TV reported on May 13 that defense attorneys said the school board would make every effort to comply with the ruling.

The Panama City station also reported that Smoak warned school officials not to retaliate against students who expressed support for gay rights.

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