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ACLU challenges district's policy prohibiting gay-themed T-shirts

By The Associated Press
11.24.04

Editor's note: Brad Mathewson on Jan. 14, 2005, withdrew his federal lawsuit against the Webb City school district. Mathewson's attorney told the Associated Press that "the issue was moot" after the teen dropped out of school in December.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday sued a southwest Missouri school district for prohibiting a high school student from wearing gay pride-themed T-shirts.

The district has said the T-shirts were disruptive and therefore a violation of the school dress code. The lawsuit filed in federal court also names Webb City High School Principal Stephen P. Gollhofer.

"Because I'm gay, my school is trying to take away my constitutional right as an American to express myself," the student, Brad Mathewson, said in a statement.

"The school lets other students wear anti-gay T-shirts, and I understand that they have a right to do that," he said. "I just want the same right."

The 16-year-old junior started attending Webb City High School this year. On Oct. 20, he came to class wearing a shirt from the Gay-Straight Alliance at his former high school in Fayetteville, Ark.

Mathewson was told either to turn the shirt inside out or to go home and change. Instead, Mathewson traded shirts with a friend, who wore the shirt without incident the rest of the day.

On Oct. 27, Mathewson wore a T-shirt bearing the phrase, "I'm gay and I'm proud." He left school after refusing Gollhofer's request to turn the shirt inside out, and was briefly suspended.

He returned to school Nov. 2 after promising not to wear gay-themed T-shirts until the issue could be resolved.

Ron Lankford, superintendent of the Webb City R-7 school district, said yesterday that while he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit, the district planned to contest it.

"I suppose this is why you have a court proceeding," Lankford said. "One side of the story has already been told, and this will be an opportunity to present the side that hasn't been told."

He declined to be more specific.


Update
ACLU drops suit after district lifts ban on gay-themed T-shirts
Civil rights group had sued after Missouri high school student was twice punished for wearing shirts with messages of support for homosexuals. 06.26.05

Related

Judge: Ban on 'Straight Pride' shirt violated student's rights

Officials at Minnesota school failed to demonstrate that teen's shirt could be disruptive, federal court rules. 01.18.02

Student sues over suspension for wearing anti-gay shirt

Federal suit claims California school punished Tyler Chase Harper for expressing his 'sincerely held religious beliefs.' 06.04.04

9th Circuit: High school can bar anti-gay T-shirt — for now
Panel majority says teen's First Amendment claims will likely fail in lower court; Judge Alex Kozinski writes blistering dissent. 04.21.06

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