Heather Gillman outside Ponce de Leon High School
Photo by Alicia Leonard. Courtesy of the DeFuniak Springs Herald Breeze.
NEW: Watch an online video about Heather's case.
The ACLU sued Ponce de Leon High School in the Florida panhandle after learning that the school had been trampling the First Amendment rights of students who support equal rights for gay people.
According to students, problems began in September of 2007 when a lesbian student tried to report to school officials that she was being harassed by other students because she is a lesbian. Instead of addressing the harassment, students say school officials responded by routinely intimidating and censoring students for things like writing “gay pride” on their arms and notebooks or wearing rainbow-themed clothing.
After speaking with several students, the ACLU sent a letter to the school district on behalf of junior Heather Gillman asking for clarification as to whether a variety of symbols and slogans, such as the rainbow flag or “I support my gay friends,” would be allowed at the school. The school district replied that it would not allow any expressions of support for gay rights at all because such speech would “likely be disruptive.” The district then went even further, claiming that such symbols and slogans were signs that students were part of a “secret/illegal organization.”
Status: Victory! On May 13, 2008, the school was permanently enjoined from suppressing students’ First Amendment rights.