Protest American Civil Liberties Union’s Approval of Anti-Gay T-Shirt

Target: Sandra Staub, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut.

Goal: Condemn the ACLU ‘s approval of anti-gay t-shirt.

Wolcott High School recently backed down on a debate regarding free speech by allowing a student to don an anti-gay t-shirt. Wolcott High School officials asked Seth Groody to remove the offensive shirt when Groody showed up at school with the shirt on in April of 2012. Groody had worn the shirt on the National Day of Silence, a day designated to recognizing, remembering, and raising awareness of the harassment faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. He complied with the school when asked to remove the shirt which bore a slash mark through a rainbow on one side, and male and female stick figures holding hands on the other above a message reading, “Excessive Speech Day.”

The American Civil Liberties Union felt that Wolcott High School’s anti-gay t-shirt ban was a violation of Groody’s First Amendment Rights.  They prepared a lawsuit to be filed in federal court demanding that the school be stopped from taking disciplinary action against Groody and retract the ban immediately.  This month a lawyer for the school district wrote to the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and stated that Groody would be allowed to wear the t-shirt. Groody has, since then, sold a number of similar shirts to fellow students.

The ACLU believes that the debate with Wolcott High School teaches students that the First Amendment “is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee.” However, it also fails to demarcate a line between opinions and hate speech. While hate speech is legally allowed, and while Groody’s t-shirt may be legally allowed, it does not make it okay to perpetuate homophobia in school. Seth Groody wore a homophobic t-shirt on a day of remembrance for the countless individuals who lost their lives because of this nation’s rampant homophobia. The ACLU’s insistence that this incident was a teaching moment regarding free speech rights, and not a teaching moment regarding tolerance, respect and an individual’s right to be safe and accepted in their community, is a signifier of the ACLU’s attitude towards the LGBT community. However “strongly” they disagree with Groody’s views on LGBT rights, they have chosen to give free speech protections importance over protections that should be offered to marginalized groups. They have suggested that free speech, however hateful, however damaging, should be protected over the countless lives lost to homophobic hatred every day. Protest the ACLU’s stance by signing this petition.

Dear Sandra Staub,

The American Civil Liberties Union recently emerged triumphant from a battle for free speech rights against Wolcott High School. Wolcott High School student Seth Groody was banned from wearing an anti-gay t-shirt to school until the ACLU stepped in. I am writing to express my disappointment in your stance on this matter.

As a place of education, high school is naturally an area in which students should learn about their rights. However, using a display of homophobic behavior to teach students about their First Amendment Rights instead of teaching them about tolerance and respect is highly problematic. While Groody may well have been within his legal rights to don that t-shirt, it does not mean he was right to wear it. Groody’s intention behind his t-shirt was to disrespect the LGBT community – he wore it on a day designated to the remembrance of individuals who lost their lives due to homophobia and hatred. The t-shirt’s message was intended to create a hostile environment, and your approval of it makes it even more likely that LGBT students will face bullying.

There is a time and a place for all messages. Using a high school to teach a set of rights that often causes severe damage, even death, is despicable. The First Amendment is an undeniable, necessary right, but high schools should be able to decide whether or not a student is creating a dangerous environment by sharing his or her views. A school is meant to be a safe, distraction-free learning environment. Your choice to demand that a student be allowed to further bigotry is shameful and disappointing. Why was the lesson in this instance that the First Amendment “is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee,” and not that every human being has the right to be treated with respect?

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: scottfeldstein via Flickr.

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2 Comments

  1. Free speech is one thing; but going out of your way to show up to school on the day that is in remembrance of those who’ve lost their lives due to bullying from those who are anti-gay, while wearing a shirt that has a rainbow with a strike through it and selling that shirt to other students so they can do the same thing, well, that’s a completely different thing. That’s hate speech and that’s purposely trying to be cruel and upset people over something that is honestly traumatic for some. If it were some other day than that specific day, I might have been willing to say the ACLU has a point. But it wasn’t. It was that specific day that the student chose to do that out of all the days on the school calendar. So in my eyes, that student wasn’t trying to do anything regarding “free speech”. It was pure unadulterated hate speech and I have no doubt that he was well aware that that was exactly what he was doing.

  2. Joshua Koch says:

    Newspeak aside, please be more careful – the definition of “Hate Speech” must include ‘incite to violence’ not ‘disagree with you’ as the key point. Otherwise my agnostic disagreements with the Catholic Church would land me in jail.

    Remember, there’s a reason it’s the Very First Amendment.

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”— UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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