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ACLU of Utah
Defends Utah High School Students Censored for Wearing Gay-Themed
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
CITY -- The American Civil Liberties Union today came to the defense
of a group of Utah high school students who were punished for wearing
"Queers Kick Ash" t-shirts to school. School officials also
threatened to ban the school’s gay-straight alliance, and dozens of
students are planning to wear the t-shirts today in protest.
on t-shirts worn by students
In a letter
sent today to school, the ACLU of Utah demanded that officials remove
any suspensions from the students’ records, allow the students to wear
the shirts without fear of punishment, and drop its threats against
the school’s GSA.
Supreme Court has firmly established that students have a
Constitutional right to political speech and expression, and when ”Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy” is one of the most popular programs on television
and universities all over the country have queer theory and queer studies
programs, there’s no doubt that it’s a commonly-used political term,"
said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian
and Gay Rights Project.
three Hillcrest High School students who wore the shirts were punished
by Assistant Principal David Breen, who told them that the shirts were
inappropriate and that he disapproved of the word "queer."
Two gay male students were given three options: taking the shirts off,
turning them inside out, or suspension. One turned his shirt inside
out and was allowed to stay at school; the other refused and was suspended.
A heterosexual girl who wore the same shirt was given an additional
fourth option of being sent home for the day without suspension, which
when more students wore the shirts to school and were similarly punished,
Breen also threatened to bring the school’s gay-straight alliance, which
wasn”t involved in distributing the t-shirts, to "a screeching
only are the school’s reasons for censoring these students unlawful,
but the assistant principal’s treating a straight student differently
from the gay students and his threats to ban the school’s gay-straight
alliance are completely unjustifiable," said Margaret Plane, a
staff attorney with the ACLU of Utah. "The school mishandled this
from the start by punishing and threatening these students when it should
be applauding them for taking a stand on an important public health
are part of an anti-smoking campaign aimed at LGBT youth. "Adolescence
is a hard time for all young people, but it’s particularly stressful
for LGBT students, who are dealing with the added stresses of harassment
and coming out, and many of them turn to smoking. To reach young people
on this issue, it must be done in a thought-provoking way that will
make smoking seem uncool," said Melinda Maureen, Director of Youth
Programs at the GLBT Community Center of Utah, which gave the shirts
to the students. She added, "These students are trying to do something
incredibly positive by fighting the epidemic of youth smoking, and their
school would rather silence them because it’s aimed at gay kids."
from last year found that 34 percent of LGBT adults smoke, compared
to 24 percent of heterosexual adults, and 90 percent of smokers began
smoking as teenagers. Despite those figures, 89 percent of LGBT adults
said that they had not seen an anti-smoking education or awareness campaign
targeted toward them. The "Queers Kick Ash" effort is part
of a larger campaign to address that gap and uses peer advocacy to discourage
LGBT youth from smoking.
about 25 students held a short, peaceful protest about Hillcrest’s handling
of the t-shirts outside the school before classes began, and more students
showed up at school wearing the shirts. It is not yet known whether
those students are receiving similar punishment.
about LGBT youth and smoking can be found in a Witeck-Combs Communications/Harris
Interactive survey released in January 2003.