An openly gay student in Waynesville challenged his school district by insisting on wearing a shirt with the statement ‘Jesus is not a homophobe.’ Waynesville High School senior Maverick Couch, age 17, has filed a federal lawsuit with help from Lambda Legal after being ordered to conceal the shirt’s message. He also expressed an intention to wear the shirt on April 20, observed in some communities as the Day of Silence when teens raise awareness of homophobia through a vow of silence while in school.
The school district decided to allow Couch to wear the shirt only on the Day of Silence while his legal case is pending, but banned the shirt on all other days on the grounds that the shirt is “sexual in nature.” 1
Couch wore the shirt to school on the 2011 Day of Silence, only to be ordered by principal Randy Gebhardt to wear it inside out to hide its message and logo – a fish symbol colored-in with a rainbow.2
The role of the shirt in raising awareness and sparking discussion about sexual orientation has led the school district into a potentially costly battle in U.S. district court, where judge Michael Barrett will monitor the case. If Couch wins his suit on the grounds that the Waynesville school district violated his freedom of speech and denied him equal protection, Waynesville schools will be responsible for covering the student’s legal fees and additional damages.3
1 “Teen to Wear Shirt Amid Controversy,” ABC2News.com, 5 April 2012, accessed 11 April 2012, <http://www.abc2news.com/dpp/news/national/teen-to-wear-shirt-amid-controversy>.
2 “Student Sues Over 'Jesus Not a Homophobe' Shirt,” Reuters.com, 5 April 2012, accessed 11 April 2012, <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/05/tagblogsfindlawcom2012-injured-idUS198615003220120405>.
3 Josh Hinkle, “Judge Rules Student Can Wear 'Jesus is not a Homophobe' Tee,” SheWired.com, 6 April 2012, accessed 11 April 2012, <http://www.shewired.com/soapbox/2012/04/06/judge-rules-student-can-wear-jesus-not-homophobe-tee>.