ACLU Sues Arkansas School District to Guarantee Gay Student's Right to Be ""Out"" at School

April 8, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LITTLE ROCK, AR -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in federal court today against the Pulaski County Special School District for its treatment of an openly gay 14-year-old student. The lawsuit contends that school officials violated Thomas McLaughlin's rights to free speech, equal protection, and privacy, and that they violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by preaching to him and forcing him read the Bible as punishment.

"We tried to work with the district to reach a settlement that would protect Thomas McLaughlin's Constitutional rights and allow him to be open about his sexual orientation," said James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "They were offered ample opportunity to do the right thing here, but the district refused to meet our demands so we're taking them to court to ensure that other lesbian and gay students in the district wouldn't face similar discrimination."

In papers filed today with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the ACLU is seeking an injunction to prevent Jacksonville Junior High School from further restricting McLaughlin's speech with regard to his sexual orientation or past discipline he's been subjected to by school officials.

"All I want out of this is for me and other gay students to be able to go to school without being preached to and without being expected to lie about who we are," said Thomas McLaughlin.

The ACLU sent a letter to the district on March 13 describing how Jacksonville Junior High School faculty and administrators had "outed" Thomas McLaughlin to his parents without his permission, preached to him, made him read the Bible, and disciplined him for talking about his sexual orientation and later for talking about that punishment. 

McLaughlin's disciplinary record confirms these allegations.

"Our demands are fairly simple. The district needs to acknowledge students' First Amendment right to talk about their sexual orientation during non-instructional time," said ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project staff attorney Leslie Cooper, adding, "We want the district to expunge Thomas's disciplinary record, and we want them to say in their district policies that they won't violate the Constitutional rights of lesbian and gay students."

"This young man's story has really touched a nerve - we've received a tremendous outpouring of outrage over Jacksonville Junior High School's behavior and supportive messages for Thomas from all over the world," said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "Schools everywhere need to learn from this example that they aren't above the Constitution, and they can't get away with silencing gay students and violating their rights." 

McLaughlin is represented by the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and attorney Kathy Hall of Little Rock, who is volunteering her services for the ACLU of Arkansas. 

For more details on McLaughlin's story, see the ACLU's earlier release at /cpredirect/12051

For more information about issues facing LGBT youth in America's schools, visit /safeschools

To read the ACLU's complaint in the case go to /cpredirect/12057

To read the ACLU's memorandum in support of a preliminary injunction go to /cpredirect/12058

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