Judge Orders School District to Allow Pro-Gay Messages

By Mark Walsh — May 14, 2008 1 min read
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A federal district judge has ordered a Florida school district to cease prohibiting students from displaying pro-gay slogans and logos.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak of Panama City, Fla., issued an oral ruling after a two-day trial in the lawsuit brought by Heather Gillman, a straight student at Ponce de Leon High School who says she was barred from displaying rainbow stickers and phrases such as “Gay Pride” and “I Support My Gay Friends.”

The suit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, alleged that the Holmes County school district in Florida’s Panhandle prohibited all symbols and slogans related to gay rights, “contending without a reasonable basis that such expression is disruptive to the educational process and indicative of membership in a ‘secret society’ or ‘illegal organization.’”

The judge found that district officials violated Gillman’s First Amendment free speech rights, and he permanently enjoined them from “restraining, prohibiting or suppressing the plaintiff or any other student within the Holmes County school district from expressing their support for the respect, equal treatment and fair acceptance of homosexuals,” according to a very rough court transcript made available by the ACLU.

“I find that the core message here is that of tolerance and fairness, and that the issue of sexual preference is really not the thrust of the argument,” Judge Smoak said.

The judge indicated that a written ruling would be forthcoming within a few weeks.

Gillman’s lawsuit is here. An ACLU press release is here.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.