The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is officially involved of some East Tennessee teenagers who want to start a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). The ACLU sent a letter to Monroe County Schools on Tuesday demanding that they let students wear clothing in "peaceful demonstration" for the GSA by October 11, 2011.
"If we don't get a satisfactory response from the school district by Tuesday, October 11th, we fully anticipate reviewing all of our legal options, including filing for a temporary restraining order in Federal court," explained Legal Representative for the ACLU in Tennessee, Tricia Hertzfeld.
The letter comes days after Sequoyah High School senior, Chris Sigler, alleged to the ACLU that he was assaulted by Principal Maurice Moser. Sigler said Moser confronted him on September 30, 2011, while he was taking an exam, asked him to take off a t-shirt with GSA, and the words "gay," "straight," and "alliance," printed on the back. Sigler said Moser got aggressive with him. The ACLU's account of Sigler's story indicates that another student had complained to the teacher about Sigler's shirt.
"He started pushing me back, grabbed me by the arm, and shoulder, and shoved me back and my shoulder hit the wall," said Sigler.
Sigler's sister, Jessica, was also in the classroom at the same time. She said she saw everything, "Mr. Moser, and stuff whenever Chris was trying to go by him, he decided to try and stop him forcefully."
Sigler is part of a group of students who have been trying to establish a GSA at the school since the summer. According to students, administration has been resistant to the group. Sigler said his t-shirt was his way of showing support, "I wanted it to stand for ending homophobia, and to stop bullying of gays and lesbians all because of sexual orientation."
The ACLU said they have been monitoring the situation since then and decided to officially get involved how because Sigler's allegations of assault indicate the situation has heightened. The letter to the school said, "We are gravely concerned about the apparent pattern of chilling students' free speech and expression on the topic of the GSA."
Hertzfeld said if the ACLU decides to take legal action it would be to protect the civil rights of all students in Monroe County to practice free speech and expression in a peaceful manner. Sigler said he would support legal action if that's the only way the school will let students establish a GSA.
"Somebody has to say 'I'll stand up and be the target' if it means that this cause could go through and actually change people," said Sigler.
10News contacted Monroe County Schools for comment on this story. No one would appear on camera, but Assistant Director of Schools Tim Blankenship sent this statement in an email:
"The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicated that there are always two sides to every story. We'll gladly provide more information as it becomes available."
To view the full text of the letter the ACLU sent to Monroe County Schools, click here.
To view the ACLU's press release on this matter, click here.