ACLU Tells Texas High School: Keep Your Hands Off Gay-Supportive Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
May 27, 2003 12:00 am

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SAN ANTONIO — After a high school principal forcibly removed stickers from students’ clothing during a silent protest to raise awareness of anti-gay violence, the American Civil Liberties Union demanded today that Luther Burbank High School stop censoring teens who took part in the protest and insisted that the school promise not to punish students who take part in such actions in the future.

“We’re appalled at this school’s actions against a group of peaceful, law-abiding students,” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “The school violated the Amnesty International Club’s right to free expression by telling it that it could not sponsor Day of Silence. It then did the same thing to individual students who were peacefully taking part in it. Then the school violated the federal Equal Access Act when it abolished the club just because some of its members had acted independently to organize the protest,” he said.

“The principal told these students that they were being disruptive, but it’s obvious who was really causing problems at school that day,” Choe added.

The school shut down the school’s Amnesty International Club because some of its members had led the protest. The students were participating in National Day of Silence, an annual nationwide student action in which students take a day-long vow of silence to illustrate the silence in which lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered people often suffer discrimination and violence.

“We were really careful to make sure that what we were doing was legal and didn’t interfere with school,” said Andrea Adame, a senior at the high school who helped organize Day of Silence Activities. She added, “All we were doing was being quiet and wearing stickers that explained what the day was all about, and we made sure students knew they should speak in classes where they have to, like Spanish class.”

Andrew Rodriguez, principal of the downtown San Antonio school, had previously warned the school’s Amnesty International Club that he would not allow it to sponsor Day of Silence activities, so a group of students went forward with their plans while acting independently of the club. On April 9, Rodriguez spent much of the day confronting students in the hallways and cafeteria, demanding that they remove “I support Day of Silence” stickers from their clothing, and removing them himself if they didn’t comply immediately, at one point even tearing a female student’s shirt. By lunchtime, according to students, Rodriguez was entering classrooms and interrupting instructional time to demand that students take the stickers off their clothing.

Michael Heflin, director of Amnesty International’s OUTfront Program, applauded the ACLU’s action, saying, “Lesbian and gay youth in this country continue to face harassment, discrimination and violence in their schools and communities. It is unacceptable that a group of students trying to convey a positive message of human rights for all would face this type of reaction from their school administration.”

In a letter sent today to Rodriguez and copied to San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Ruben D. Olivarez as well as Amnesty International USA and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which spearheads National Day of Silence, the ACLU is demanding that the Amnesty International Club be reinstated immediately and seeking a guarantee that the school won’t violate students’ rights in this fashion in the future.

The letter is online at /Files/OpenFile.cfm?id=12725.

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