Florida Gay Student Wins Suit Over Anti-Bullying T-Shirt

by Ryan Dixon
Thursday Apr 18, 2013

A federal court in Fort Myers, Florida ruled in favor of a female student who sued the Desoto County School District Board of Education and three school officials after they allegedly prevented her from organizing and participating in a National Day of Silence honoring LGBT students who face bullying and harassment, the Courthouse News reports.

Amber Hatcher, an openly lesbian 16-year-old, filed a lawsuit on Feb. 26 against the DeSoto County High School arguing the school interfered with her First Amendment rights when they suspended her last year.

In the lawsuit, Hatcher said she was wearing a t-shirt with the message "DOS April 20, 2012: Shhhhh" and communicated with peers and teachers by dry erase board.

DOS is the abbreviation for "Day of Silence," a national day of observance that takes place every year since 1996 to to protest the bullying and harassment of LGBT teens. The event was started by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and takes place every April.

After repeated warnings from school administrators and a rotund disapproval from DeSoto County School Superintendent Adrian Cline, Hatcher decided to wear the t-shirt and proceed with her plan to protest last year. She was suspended from school later that day.

"DeSoto County Schools is practicing the very kind of harassment and discrimination the Day of Silence is designed to address in schools," Eliza Byard, GLSEN's executive director, said in a statement.

Desoto County High School principal Shannon Fusco said Hatcher was punished because of her protest activities. Fusco and the school board moved to dismiss the case, but U.S. District Judge John Steele preserved most of Hatcher's claims on April 5, 2013 for trial.

"At least some of these proposed activities were well within the First Amendment and required no approval by any school official, e.g., remaining silent outside of class, communicating in writing or by dry erase board outside of class, non-vulgar conversations about the upcoming National Day of Silence," Steele wrote in his ruling.

Hatcher's request for an injunction to prevent her school from repeating its actions again this year was denied.

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