Arizona School Agrees To Lift Rainbow Ban Following ACLU Demand Letter

April 20, 2009

Gay Student Now Allowed To Wear Wristband

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

PEORIA, AZ – Peoria Unified School District has assured the American Civil Liberties Union that it will no longer prevent a gay 14-year-old student from wearing a rainbow wristband at school, following an ACLU letter that demanded that the school district rescind its ban on the wristband.

"It's a good thing that the school has finally realized that it can't just disregard First Amendment rights of students who are gay," said Natali Quintanilla, mother of the eighth grader whose wristband was banned. "I'm very proud of my son for standing up for his rights and we both hope this means that other gay students won't be silenced at his school in the future."

Quintanilla contacted the ACLU in February after her son Chris's principal told her he wouldn't allow her son to wear his cloth wristband with words "Rainbows are gay" to school anymore. Last week, the school finally gave assurances to the ACLU that it would not censor Quintanilla's wristband in the future.

"Students have a constitutional right to free speech at school, and school officials should be aware of their responsibility for upholding this cornerstone of our freedom," said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney for the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. "This district was right to come to its senses and back down from violating the First Amendment, because students have 40 years of Supreme Court precedent on their side when schools do this kind of thing."

In its letter, the ACLU reminded PUSD officials about the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines in which the Court wrote, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights... at the schoolhouse gate." The letter also pointed to Gillman v. Holmes County School District, a Florida case in which a high school principal had attempted to ban symbols in support of LGBT rights, including rainbows, at school. In that case, a federal judge ruled last May that the school had violated students' First Amendment rights. Both cases were handled by the ACLU, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Tinker decision in February.

"The schools we entrust to teach our children about society and their freedoms should know better than to violate one of our most fundamental freedoms," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. "We're glad that PUSD has seen the light about this, but we're going to be keeping an eye on this district and hold them to their word that they'll respect the First Amendment from now on."

The letter the ACLU sent to the district last month is available here:
www.aclu.org/pdfs/lgbt/schoolsyouth/az_armb_letter.pdf.

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