Wear it loud and proud
Students’ suspension for gay rights advocacy teaches important lesson in free speech
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
In theory, high school is the place where students begin to learn who they are and, in turn, learn how to accept each other. But one school’s administration needs a lesson in acceptance.
Twenty students at Celina High School, a public high school in Ohio, are facing out-of-school suspension after wearing and refusing to remove T-shirts in support of LGBTQ rights. The shirts read in all caps, “I support [rainbow],” “Express yourself” and “Straight but supportive.”
A student representative told Hypervoice.com that the assistant principal punished the students because they were advertising political messages, yet the school has no problem promoting a pro-life club called Students for Life or letting students wear shirts that display their political affiliations.
It’s interesting this “political” statement is happening in Ohio, an important battleground state, at a school that was recently host to Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But according to the school, politics has no place inside the walls of the school.
Celina’s dress code doesn’t go into great detail on its rules, only offering basic guidelines such as prohibiting clothes that are a danger to the health and safety of students, interference with schoolwork or education objectives, disruption of education or cause physical restrictions to the wearer. The teachers and administration weren’t able to continue their daily duties in their presence – a disruption of education – and the only way the shirts prevented the students from achieving their educational objectives is because they were forced from school.
There’s an unspoken rule that students in high school have a very limited range on what constitutes free speech. Every word is monitored, writing assignments can have grade points marked off for content or language and officials can ask students to change their clothing if it’s not deemed “appropriate.” That parochial view of free speech clearly matches an equally parochial view of what’s appropriate.
This mild movement started after two girls wore “Twin Day” T-shirts that read “Lesbian 1” and “Lesbian 2.” They were asked to remove the shirts, and in response, students revolted against the administration by wearing the new shirts as pledges of support.
There’s a lot of crying “free speech” as an excuse for actions, but wearing pride shirts is hardly the same as when the Westboro Baptist Church claims free speech for picketing the funerals of LGBTQ people. Unlike those specific claims of free speech, this was without malice, hate or violence. It was peaceful and supportive. Think of how many LGBTQ or political shirts you see in the hallways at a public college. Why should it be any different in high school, which is essentially just a lower level of public education? The only problem the administration could possibly have is it was political, but if they’re showing exceptions for other student groups, they don’t have the right to pick and choose.
Instead of getting angry or violent at the administration, the students reacted acceptably and appropriately. We should be commending them instead of punishing them, but of course, any kind of uprising in a high school – public or private – doesn’t fit into what’s deemed appropriate. Let’s punish them instead of letting them stand up for their fellow classmates.
There’s a ripple effect occurring here. By banning the shirts and suspending the students, the administration at Celina High School is subconsciously teaching them they shouldn’t be accepting or publicly supportive of their peers. As tough and brutal as high school can be, we shouldn’t be censoring supportive attitudes and punishing students for who they want to be. It doesn’t help if the administration is more brutal and unfair than some students could ever be.