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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Gay Teen Sues Arkansas School District

An Arkansas junior high school student filed suit on Tuesday against his school district and four of his teachers, saying he was inappropriately disciplined and restricted from talking about being gay.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Thomas McLaughlin, 14, is suing the Pulaski County Special School District and employees at Jacksonville Junior High, alleging that school officials violated his rights to free speech, equal protection and privacy. In addition, the suit contends school officials violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment by preaching to him and forcing him to read the Bible as punishment.

McLaughin's troubles with the school began last year, when a teacher called his parents, who had no knowledge of their son's sexual orientation, and told them their son was gay. Teachers continually told both McLaughlin and his parents they objected to him being gay. After countering a teacher's opinion that homosexuality was "unnatural," McLaughlin was forced to read the Bible in a school official's office. The student was then warned not to tell anyone about the incident or he would be expelled.

In January 2003 McLaughlin was suspended after he and a female student talked about another boy between classes. Only McLaughlin was disciplined.

On March 13, the ACLU wrote a letter to the school district, warning that if they did not remove all of the unconstitutional disciplinary actions from McLaughlin's record the school district could face a lawsuit. In response, the school wrote a letter back to the ACLU saying McLaughlin had been disruptive and that the punishments were appropriate.

"We tried to work with the district to reach a settlement that would protect Thomas McLaughlin's constitutional rights and allow him to be open about his sexual orientation," said James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "They were offered ample opportunity to do the right thing here, but the district refused to meet our demands, so we're taking them to court to ensure that other lesbian and gay students in the district wouldn't face similar discrimination."

"All I want out of this is for me and other gay students to be able to go to school without being preached to and without being expected to lie about who we are," said McLaughlin. "I'm through with being silenced, and I don't want this happening to other gay kids at my school."

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