I couldn’t disagree more with Wolcott High School officials who, in response to the threat of an ACLU lawsuit, reversed their decision to prevent student Seth Groody from wearing a homophobic t-shirt.
Sandra Staub, legal director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said the district's reversal teaches students that the First Amendment “is not merely a theoretical discussion topic but a real and vital guarantee” of free speech rights.
On the contrary, the ACLU has taken this “right” out of its full context and turned it into a theoretical discussion with no regard for the real violence it condones. What Staub neglected to note is that homophobia in schools is a form of violence that results far too often in the premature deaths of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Groody has the right to express himself. But he does not have the right to participate in collective violence against his fellow students. He does not have the right to bully. He does not have the right to feed a school climate of hatred, bigotry, fear and ignorance. And school officials—especially those charged with fostering positive school climates—do not have to tolerate it.
In reversing their decision, whatever lesson school officials may have taught about the “vital guarantees” of the first amendment, they also taught that it’s ok to cave in under pressure when your principles, public safety, GBLT lives, positive school climate, and an educational environment conducive to actual learning are at stake.
School officials should have gone to court. They should have stood by their own policies. Now they’ve set a standard for mocking the First Amendment, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth will suffer for it.