Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gay Student Banned from Wearing Rainbow

PEORIA (Observer Update) - A 14-year-old Peoria student says he was ordered by a principal to turn his rainbow wristband inside-out or stop wearing it to school, reported The cloth wristband has words “Rainbows are Gay” on it.

Chris Quintanilla says it is the latest in several anti-Gay experiences he has had at the school. After nothing was done, his mother went to the American Civil Liberties Union. In a letter sent to Peoria Unified School District, the ACLU said that the principal violated Quintanilla’s constitutional rights, pointing to a 40-year-old landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing students’ free speech and expression. “When I asked my son’s principal why he wouldn’t be allowed to wear his wristband to school anymore, he said some teachers found it offensive,” said Natali Quintanilla, mother of the eighth grader. “My son is honest and happy about who he is, and I love him and support his right to be himself. There are a lot of things teachers should be more concerned about than one little wristband – like educating our children.”

Quintanilla said that her son was harassed for being Gay earlier this school year. When she asked to the principal to do something to prevent the harassment she said she was told “If he didn’t put it out there the way he does, he wouldn’t have much of a problem.” The Supreme Court has held that students have a right to free speech at school, and that includes Gay students. “ The ACLU has won dozens of cases over the years where schools have tried to get away with illegal censorship,” said Elizabeth Gill, staff attorney for the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “A handful of teachers supposedly working themselves into a tizzy over one little wristband is hardly an excuse for violating Chris Quintanilla’s right to free speech.”

The ACLU letter refers to 1969’s U.S. Supreme Court decision 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 a Florida case in which a high school principal had attempted to ban rainbows at school. In that case, a federal judge ruled last May that the school had violated students’ First Amendment rights. “When schools censor students like this, they are failing one of the most important civics lessons there is,” said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Schools should respect the Constitution and encourage all students – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and straight – to appreciate and exercise their freedoms, rather than illegally trying to silence them.” The ACLU has given the school ten days to respond to its letter. The school has yet to respond.

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