School: Student will be allowed to wear anti-gay T-shirt
By KELLY GLISTA
WOLCOTT, Conn. (WTIC) — A high school student who was threatened with suspension or expulsion for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt last year will be allowed, in the future, to wear shirts expressing his views on homosexuality.
School officials said Tuesday that they recognized 17-year-old Seth Groody’s right to free speech, in response to a draft of a federal complaint prepared on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The Wolcott Public Schools has always and will continue to allow students their rights of free expression, so long as all students exercise their rights without creating a substantial disruption to the educational environment for all students,” Superintendent Joseph Macary said in a statement.
The Groody family declined to comment on the decision.
According to the ACLU, Groody wore the shirt in opposition to a “Day of Silence” at the school last April — a national event designed to bring attention to bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in schools.
The front of the shirt, which Groody designed himself, depicted a rainbow with a slash through it. The back showed a stick figure of a male and a female holding hands and the words, “Excessive Speech Day.”
Groody was confronted by school officials and told that he would be suspended or expelled if he refused to change his shirt, the ACLU said. He complied.
The ACLU contacted the school in June 2012, saying that Groody’s rights under both the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution were violated by the school’s action. By not allowing Groody to wear his T-shirt, the school was causing “ongoing irreparable harm,” the complaint alleged.
The complaint never went to court. Earlier this month, the ACLU received a letter from attorney Christine Chinni, representing Wolcott Public Schools, assuring that in the future Groody would be allowed to wear that shirt or others expressing his views on homosexuality.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national organization behind the “Day of Silence” program, said that Groody’s T-shirt expression on a day when students throughout the country participated in the event to raise awareness about anti-gay bullying was ironic.
“We recognize the student has the First Amendment to express his views, but we hope he can agree with the basic premise that all of his peers deserve to feel safe and treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Andy Marra, GLSEN’s public relations manager.
Although the ACLU strongly disagrees with Groody’s views, the organization was pleased with the school’s decision, said Sandra Staub, the group’s legal director.
“Public school students need to know that the First Amendment is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee of freedom in America that entitles them to express their views,” she said.