ACLU Responds To Reports Of Proselytizing And Anti-LGBT Remarks By Principal At Tennessee High School
Principal Also Reportedly Said Pregnant Students Will Be “Jobless, Homeless and Living off the Government”
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Haywood, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee sent a letter to the superintendent of the Haywood County school district superintendent after receiving reports that a high school principal said gay students are “not on God’s path” and threatened to expel them if they publicly showed affection for members of the same sex. The letter was sent on behalf of several students and families at the school.
The ACLU also received reports that Haywood High School Principal Dorothy Bond not only made discriminatory remarks about LGBT people, but also told students that “life is over” for girls who became pregnant.
“Students should never be made to feel like they are unwelcome at their own school, especially by school leadership,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “We expect school officials to clearly state that they do not condone this type of harassment and targeted discrimination, and to take action to ensure that it does not happen again.”
Multiple students contacted the ACLU to express concerns about an assembly that took place on Feb. 9. At the assembly, Principal Bond reportedly said that gay people are “ruining their lives” and threatened to administer severe punishment – including 60-day suspensions, assignments to an alternative school or expulsion – to any students who were observed publicly displaying affection for members of the same sex. The school already has a policy on public displays of affection that is neutral regarding sexual orientation.
The incident appears to be part of a broader pattern of official anti-gay remarks and policies by the principal, and of incorporating prayers and proselytizing into school events. On one occasion, school officials scolded students who did not bow their heads in prayer and threatened them with discipline. On another occasion, the principal told a lesbian student that she would go to “hell” because of her sexual orientation.
“Students have the right to be who they are at school,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “LGBT students and pregnant and parenting students have just as much right to complete their education as any other student, but too often they face significant barriers or outright discrimination. It’s appalling to think that a principal would kick students out of public school based on her personal religious views.”
The ACLU has asked the school to clarify that students have the constitutional right to identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual; to acknowledge that two students of the same sex are dating; to express LGBT-friendly political views; and to receive an education free from the unlawful promotion of religion by school officials.
The ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU LGBT Project are working with the ACLU of Tennessee to investigate these matters.
Any parents or students with concerns about the reported incident at Haywood High School should contact the ACLU of Tennessee at (615) 320-7142 or www.aclu-tn.org/gethelp.htm