Florida is in the news again for its anti-LGBT attitudes towards youth. Alex posted about this briefly below, but I wanted to take it a little more in-depth and more importantly talk about how this relates to the recently passed anti-bullying bill in Florida.
A federal judge ruled today that a high school in Florida's panhandle violated the First Amendment rights of students. The case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of a junior at the school who had been forbidden by her principal to wear any sort of clothing, stickers, buttons, or symbols to show her support of equal rights for gay people.
During the trial Ponce de Leon High School's principal David Davis admitted under oath that he had banned students from wearing any clothing or symbols supporting equal rights for gay people. Davis also testified that he believed rainbows were "sexually suggestive" and would make students unable to study because they'd be picturing gay sex acts in their mind. The principal went on to admit that while censoring rainbows and gay pride messages he allowed students to wear other symbols many find controversial, such as the Confederate flag.
Much more after the jump...
"Standing up to my school was really hard to do, but I'm so happy that I did because the First Amendment is a big deal to everyone," said Heather Gillman, a junior at Ponce de Leon High School and the plaintiff in the case.
The case came about after Heather Gillman and other students approached the ACLU about an atmosphere in which students say they were routinely intimidated by school officials for things like writing "gay pride" on their arms and notebooks or wearing rainbow-themed clothing. According to students, problems began in September of 2007 when a lesbian student tried to report to school officials that she was being harassed by other students because she is a lesbian.
Instead of addressing the harassment, students say the school responded with intimidation, censorship, and suspensions. That student testified on Monday, breaking down on the stand as she described the school's indifference to the harassment she experienced.
Judge Richard Smoak issued an order that forces the school to stop its unconstitutional censorship of students who want to express their support for the equal treatment of LGBT people. The judge also warned the district not to retaliate against students over the lawsuit.
I applaud the brave young people who stood up to this blatant discrimination. It is disgusting that they had to do so in the first place. The students have now opened themselves up to more bullying and harassment in one of the most conservative parts of our state. Our community needs to make sure these LGBT students and their allies have the support needed as they move forward after this amazing victory.
But won't Florida's new anti-bullying bill help and protect them?
This is where the ugly truth of the recently passed, Republican sponsored, anti-bullying bill comes to light. The legislation that many groups claimed as a victory is actually almost sure to be useless to these students.
The problem with the bill passed is that it included no enumerations or protected categories. No sexual orientation. No Gender Identity or expression. Nothing. The choice of who falls under the protection of the bill falls to the schools- the same schools like the one in this court case. It falls to the same schools and principals at the core of the harassment of LGBT youth and allies.
It isn't hard to see the giant loophole in the hollow bill and how anti-LGBT schools will use it to its full advantage. Do you think this principal- who has made his bigoted views clear- will push to include LGBT kids in the anti-bullying measure? Not hardly.
So while many groups and websites have declared that "Florida's LGBT youth are now protected", the sad reality is that this was a sham bill put forward by a conservative legislature to block fully-inclusive anti-bullying laws. Our youth are no safer now than they were before.
So while some may be happy to claim hollow legislative victories, I am not. We need to continue to push forward to protect our amazing youth, like the kids in this lawsuit. They are ready to fight for their rights and equality.
How can we be expected to do any less?