By Amanda Goad, Staff Attorney, ACLU LGBT Project
Chris Sigler is a senior at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tennessee. It’s a tradition among Sequoyah students to get friends’ signatures on a keepsake T-shirt, so in past years Chris has done that on a shirt labeled “California” and one with the name of his favorite band. This year, Chris decided to make a shirt that would send a message about an issue that’s important to him: the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Sequoyah.
Chris is not gay himself, but he has friends who are. Most of them have suffered bullying at Sequoyah, and some of them have considered suicide. Chris himself regularly gets called things like “fag,” “queer,” and “pussy” by other students just for his support of his gay friends. So it’s important to him that all students at the school have a safe place to go to talk about bullying and how to fight homophobia. The U.S. Department of Education agrees with Chris that GSAs, and other student-initiated clubs bringing together gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and straight youth, are a great way to combat bullying and help all students feel safe and welcome at school. And the federal Equal Access Act protects students’ right to form GSAs at public schools like Chris’s.
The Sequoyah High School GSA should have been a done deal by now…if it weren’t for the principal, Maurice Moser. When they circulated a petition to show support for the GSA and got over 150 signatures, students say Moser banned petitions about the GSA at the school. Then, when Chris and two other students put together an application for school recognition of the GSA, Moser wouldn’t even take it from them because they hadn’t named a faculty sponsor. At least three teachers have expressed interest in sponsoring the GSA but then changed their minds after meeting with Moser about it. We’ve read that Moser has admitted that in the past, when other clubs needed sponsors, he helped them out – but this time he refused to help.