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My Name Is Ceara Sturgis, and I Am Not a Troublemaker

11:52 am in Uncategorized by ACLU

By Ceara Sturgis

Ceara Sturgis

When graduating senior Ceara Sturgis chose to wear a tuxedo for her senior yearbook photo, rather than the drape typically reserved for girls, her school responded by excluding her entirely from the senior portrait section of the yearbook. The ACLU represented Ceara in a sex discrimination lawsuit against her school district.

Let me explain. I’m a graduate of Wesson Attendance Center Class of 2010. I loved my high school. I had great friends, I got good grades, I played soccer and was in the band, and I got along well with my teachers. I stayed out of trouble. My high school experience was pretty unremarkable, actually, until it came time for senior year portraits.

I’ve never been what you’d call a girly-girl. I feel uncomfortable in dresses and am much happier wearing T-shirts and khaki shorts. I always find clothes that I like in the boys’ section, rather than the girls’. But this was never an issue at school at all. Nobody ever made me feel weird or like an outcast. I was just Ceara.

For senior portraits, the school said that boys must wear a tuxedo and girls must wear a drape that made them look like they’re wearing a dress. I tried on the drape, but I just felt so uncomfortable. Imagine forcing a typical “jock” guy to wear a ball gown, and have that be the defining image of him in his high school years forever. That’s how I felt wearing the drape. It was humiliating to me to pretend to be something I wasn’t.

I really wanted to wear a tuxedo. No one flipping through the yearbook would notice anything amiss…I would blend right in with the other kids in formal wear. So we took the picture that way, and I even checked with the superintendent to make sure it was okay. He said it was, though the school board still threatened to not print the picture.

I tried to reason with school officials throughout the year, but when we got our yearbooks that spring, I was crushed to see that not only was my senior portrait removed from the yearbook, but my name wasn’t even in the senior section as “not pictured.” It was as though I didn’t exist in my senior class. Read the rest of this entry →


Tennessee Principal’s Reaction to GSA T-Shirt Raises the Question: Who’s Really Causing the Disruption Here?

1:56 pm in Uncategorized by ACLU

By Amanda Goad, Staff Attorney, ACLU LGBT Project

Chris Sigler is a senior at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tennessee. It’s a tradition among Sequoyah students to get friends’ signatures on a keepsake T-shirt, so in past years Chris has done that on a shirt labeled "California" and one with the name of his favorite band. This year, Chris decided to make a shirt that would send a message about an issue that’s important to him: the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Sequoyah.

Chris is not gay himself, but he has friends who are. Most of them have suffered bullying at Sequoyah, and some of them have considered suicide. Chris himself regularly gets called things like "fag," "queer," and "pussy" by other students just for his support of his gay friends. So it’s important to him that all students at the school have a safe place to go to talk about bullying and how to fight homophobia. The U.S. Department of Education agrees with Chris that GSAs, and other student-initiated clubs bringing together gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and straight youth, are a great way to combat bullying and help all students feel safe and welcome at school. And the federal Equal Access Act protects students’ right to form GSAs at public schools like Chris’s.

The Sequoyah High School GSA should have been a done deal by now…if it weren’t for the principal, Maurice Moser. When they circulated a petition to show support for the GSA and got over 150 signatures, students say Moser banned petitions about the GSA at the school. Then, when Chris and two other students put together an application for school recognition of the GSA, Moser wouldn’t even take it from them because they hadn’t named a faculty sponsor. At least three teachers have expressed interest in sponsoring the GSA but then changed their minds after meeting with Moser about it. We’ve read that Moser has admitted that in the past, when other clubs needed sponsors, he helped them out – but this time he refused to help.

Chris wrote "Gay Straight Alliance: We’ve Got Your Back" on a T-shirt and wore it to school last Tuesday and Friday. Dozens of classmates signed. But Friday morning, Moser told Chris that he could choose either to turn his shirt inside out, change shirts, or get suspended. Chris ignored that, because he knew his shirt was fine under the Sequoyah dress code. Later, Moser charged into Chris’s economics class, interrupted the students in the middle of taking a test, and ordered everyone except Chris to leave. What happened next is a matter for the criminal justice system. But putting aside the assault and battery allegations against Moser, it’s unconstitutional and totally inappropriate for a high school student to be punished for speaking his mind peacefully through the words on a T-shirt. The Supreme Court says that students can express whatever ideas they want through their clothing as long as they don’t cause a "substantial disruption," and it sounds like the only person causing a substantial disruption at Sequoyah last week was Moser.

The ACLU of Tennessee and the ACLU’s LGBT Project wrote a letter to the Monroe County Director of Schools, Moser’s boss, on Tuesday. We asked the school district to confirm that it will, going forward, honor students’ constitutional rights to free speech and free expression. If we have to, we are prepared to go to court to protect Sequoyah students’ First Amendment rights. Meanwhile, the ACLU of Tennessee is asking concerned members of the public to contact the school district seeking a promise that any teacher who steps up to sponsor the GSA won’t face retaliation. We look forward to hearing that a courageous teacher has done so, which under Moser’s own rules should allow recognition of the GSA, so that Chris and his classmates can get together over lunch to talk about LGBT issues with the school’s blessing.

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No Aloha in Hawaii for LGBT Families: Hawaii Governor’s Veto of Civil Unions Bill an Affront to All

9:31 am in Uncategorized by ACLU

By Laurie Temple, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Hawaii

In Hawaii, one is said to have aloha or to show aloha if they treat others with love, mercy, compassion and peace. Sadly, the aloha spirit was lost on Tuesday, July 6, 2010, when, in a blow to LGBT families and civil rights supporters, Hawaii’s governor Linda Lingle vetoed House Bill 444 ("H.B. 444"), the civil unions bill. While offering substantially less than marriage, H.B. 444 would have allowed both same and different sex couples to enter into a civil union and receive the rights, responsibilities, benefits and protections that Hawaii law provides to married couples. Gov. Lingle’s veto of HB 444 continues to leave Hawaii’s LGBT families vulnerable — without the basic rights and responsibilities necessary to protect and strengthen their families.

Gov. Lingle’s reasoning for vetoing the bill is indefensible. Calling civil unions "marriage by another name" (as if anyone would trade their marriage for a civil union), she described the issue as too emotional and important to be decided solely by the governor or the state legislature, and one that should be put to a vote. Yet, Hawaii’s people already voted on this issue back in 1998. At that time it looked like Hawaii’s courts might decide that it was unconstitutional for the state to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry, so the voters approved an amendment that stripped the courts of the ability to decide the issue of marriage, giving the power instead to the legislature (not the governor) to decide what protections and recognition to provide same-sex couples.

Make no mistake: the ACLU opposed the amendment because we believe that if the Constitution’s guarantee of equality is to have meaning, then the rights of minorities should never be held at the mercy of the majority. But it is especially shameful that Gov. Lingle, who has taken an oath to protect and defend everyone’s constitutional rights, is now calling for a second vote on an issue that has already been decided by the people of Hawaii. There is only one person to blame for the harm that will come to families of same-sex couples who being denied critical legal protections, and that is Gov. Lingle, who has defied both the legislature and the wishes of the people.

But never fear…the ACLU is here! While the governor may wish to sidestep this civil rights issue, the ACLU of Hawaii and its many community allies remain undaunted in the fight to achieve equality. For over a year, the ACLU of Hawaii, Lambda Legal and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing have been working to ready a lawsuit to challenge Hawaii’s failure to ensure equal treatment for LGBT families in the event that the legislative process failed to do so. Unfortunately, that day has come. Hawaii’s families are ready to take the next step towards equality — up the courthouse stairs. Imua!