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Maverick wins right to wear T-shirt to school

WAYNESVILLE, Ohio -- The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio signed an agreed judgment order this week in favor of Maverick Couch, affirming the high school junior's First Amendment right to wear a T-shirt with the slogan "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe" to school on any day he chooses.

"We're very happy for Maverick and all LGBT students in Ohio," said Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "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."

In April 2011, Maverick Couch, a high school student in Waynesville, Ohio, wore a T-shirt with a rainbow Ichthys, or "sign of the fish," and a slogan that says "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe" in observation of GLSEN's Day of Silence.

The school principal, Randy Gebhardt, instructed him to turn the T-shirt inside out; Maverick complied.

In fall 2011, he approached the school principal seeking permission to wear the T-shirt. Gebhardt stated that he would be suspended if he wore the shirt.

In January 2012, Lambda Legal sent a letter to Mr. Gebhardt outlining the legal precedent supporting Maverick's right to wear the shirt, to which the school district issued the response, "... 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 the Wayne Local School District on Maverick's behalf, and in a status conference the very next day, the school district decided not to oppose Maverick's request for a temporary restraining order and instead conceded that Maverick could wear the shirt on one day only: GLSEN's Day of Silence, while the case proceeded.

On Monday, May 21, the school district and principal agreed to have judgment entered against them in an order affirming Maverick's right to wear the shirt on any day he chooses, and awarding $20,000 for damages, costs, and attorney's fees incurred.

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

Read the judgement order HERE.

Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by Lisa T. Meeks with Newman & Meeks based in Cincinnati, Ohio.