February 24 marks the 40th anniversary of the Tinker decision, a landmark Supreme Court case affirming students' First Amendment rights to free speech in public schools. In honor of this anniversary, the ACLU has released a short video about a Florida high school that banned students from wearing clothing supporting equal rights for gay people. Actually seeing and hearing the principal is beyond belief.
Standing up has indeed been hard. As I posted about before in "Remember the Anti-Gay Florida Principle? He's now a Local Hero", Gillman and her family have been harassed in their small community since the very public case. Worse still, Davis is still involved in the life of students, having been "demoted" from principal to a teacher.
Heather and countless other courageous students have followed in the footsteps of Mary Beth Tinker, her brother John, and their friend Christopher Eckhardt, who were suspended from Des Moines public schools in 1965 for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the students filed a lawsuit, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark decision on February 24, 1969, the Court ruled in favor of the students, holding that students don't lose their constitutional rights at the classroom door. The Tinker precedent is still used to determine whether a school's disciplinary actions violate students' First Amendment rights.
I hope students continue to stand up for themselves. We need more young heroes for our community like Heather Gillman. We also need to make sure we stay after the court cases and fights to support young people who stand up in hostile areas. We have to work to change the minds and hearts of communities like Florida's panhandle- otherwise the victories we win may create more hostility and harassment that these brave young warriors who fight for our rights have to face alone.