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Topics In the News
Maverick Couch Wins Right to Wear T-Shirt
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/22/12
Last updated on: 05/22/12
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Brave Ohio teenager Maverick Couch has, with the aid of Lambda Legal, won the right to wear to school a T-shirt that features the words "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe." After having repeatedly been denied permission to wear the garment on the grounds that it was "sexual" and "indecent," he filed suit in federal court. On May 21, 2012, the court ruled in his favor and ordered the school board to pay him $20,000 for attorneys' fees.

In April 2011, on GLSEN's National Day of Silence, the 15-year-old Couch wore a T-shirt to Waynesville High School in Waynesville, Ohio that featured a rainbow Ichthys or "sign of the fish" along with the words "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe." The school principal ordered Maverick to turn the T-shirt inside out and told him that if he wore it again he would be suspended from school.

Couch complied in 2011, but he did not give up. The enterprising student researched his First Amendment Rights as a student and went back to school determined to wear his shirt to mark GLSEN's 2012 National Day of Silence. He repeatedly requested the right to wear the shirt and was told each time that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.

Then Couch called Lambda Legal Education and Defense Fund and explained the problem. On January 24, 2012, Lambda Legal sent an educational letter to the school, reminding school officials that students are protected under the First Amendment. The School District refused to change its position, alleging that "the message communicated by the student's T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefore indecent and inappropriate in a school setting."

On April 3, 2012, Lambda Legal filed suit against Wayne Local School District on behalf of Maverick Couch, asking the court to allow Maverick to wear his T-shirt, not only on April 20th, GLSEN's National Day of Silence, but any day.

Upon receiving notice of the suit, the School District conceded that Couch could wear the shirt, but only on the Day of Silence.

Now, however, U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett has issued a judgment in favor of Couch that gives him the right to wear the T-shirt any day he wishes.

The order, which may be read here, not only expressly permits Couch to wear the T-shirt to school whenever he wishes, but it also directs the School District "to pay damages and costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees, in the amount of $20,000 to Plaintiff on or before July 5, 2012."

Delighted with the ruling, Maverick Couch said, "I just wanted to wear my shirt. The shirt is a statement of pride, and I hope other students like me know that they can be proud, too."

Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Clark said, "We're very happy for Maverick and all LGBT students in Ohio. If school officials had any doubt before, it's clear now: First Amendment rights apply to all students on every day of the year, and efforts to silence LGBT youth will not go unchallenged."

Coming on the heels of the miscarriage of justice in the Dharun Ravi case, the victory of a brave teenager in court restores to some extent faith in the judicial system. It also makes us very appreciative of the bravery of young people like Maverick Couch and of the excellent work of Lambda Legal.

The video below, from April 2012 when the controversy was first in the news, features a brief interview with Maverick Couch.

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