Chris Sigler, a 17-year-old senior at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tenn, claims that his principal shoved and verbally harassed him last week for wearing a T-shirt in support of establishing a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club.
A teacher had told Sigler he could not wear his shirt, which said “GSA: We’ve Got Your Back,” but he wore it to school anyway. When he refused to remove the shirt, Principal Maurice Moser ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler and his sister.
The principal allegedly grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and bumped him on the chest repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?”
Sigler’s family has since filed a report about the incident with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
In a statement, Sigler said: “All I want is to have a GSA at my school to help stop the bullying against gays and lesbians and their friends who support them. The shirt was a way to use my voice and show my support for the club. The way I was treated shows even more why we need a GSA here.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Tennessee sent a letter to the school district on Tuesday demanding that students’ rights to free speech be protected in the classroom.
“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee.
“Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School. Given this context, it’s especially important that supportive voices like Sigler’s can be heard in order to overcome the school’s resistance to a GSA.”