UPDATED: Ohio Teen Sues School District for Prohibiting "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe" T-Shirt

UPDATE: In a recent development, a judge has ordered that Maverick can wear his t-shirt until a descision is made. 

An openly gay Ohio teen has filed a lawsuit against his high school for refusing to allow him to wear a t-shirt featuring a rainbow-colored fish and the words “Jesus is Not a Homophobe.” Maverick Couch first wore the t-shirt, and was told to remove it, during last year’s Day of Silence, a campaign organized by GLSEN to bring awareness to the silencing of LGBT students through bullying and harassment.

“I’ve been bullied and called names, I wanted to wear the T-shirt to encourage respect for all students, gay or straight,” says Maverick. “I wish my school would help me create an accepting environment for LGBT kids, not single me out for punishment."

School officials forced Maverick to remove the shirt last year. The family tried to settle the dispute with the school by asking that Maverick be allowed to wear the LGBT affirming t-shirt, but both parties were unable to come to an agreement. School officials first claimed that the shirt was “indecent and sexual in nature.”  Now their line of defense is that the t-shirt is “too religious.”

Lambda Legal is representing the family in the case and Equality Ohio is supporting the action. “Bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a serious problem in Ohio. Denying students the right to demonstrate support for LGBT students perpetuates the notion that schools should not talk about LGBT bullying,” says Ed Mullen, Executive Director of Equality Ohio. “We strongly support the right of students to express their support for the Day of Silence and hope that school administrators will also speak out in support of LGBT youth in their schools.”

This story has captured media attention both locally and nationally, mostly because of its themes of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. This story signals a shift in which pro-LGBT messages are coming from a faith voice. Too often news stories are framed in such a way that assumes that Christians are opposed to LGBT equality. By not listening to LGBT-affirming sources, journalists can contribute to – and even perpetuate – the idea that those who are religious are, by definition, opposed to LGBT equality. However, that notion is being challenged by stories like Maverick and his Christian, pro-LGBT t-shirt.

 

GLAAD commends the media for covering this story in a fair, accurate and inclusive manner thus far. As this story and Lambda Legal’s case develops, GLAAD reminds media to make more consistent use of LGBT-affirming religious sources in follow-up news coverage. GLAAD also encourages the media to give the same fair and accurate coverage of the 2012 Day of Silence, which is on April 20.

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