Hunt H.S. Student Loses Election; ACLU Ponders Options
Posted April 28, 2004 10:39 a.m. EDT
WILSON, N.C. — A Wilson County high school student may have lost the election for student body president, but the incident may lead to the start of a legal fight over gay rights.
Jarred Gamwell finished in last place in the race for student body president.
"I think it really would have put me in a position where I could have done a lot for the school," Gamwell said.
The openly gay junior said he decided to include his sexual orientation on campaign posters to show he was for equality, opportunity and fairness. He put up campaign signs with phrases like "A Queer Eye for Hunt High" and "Gay Guys Know Everything."
Shortly after the posters went up, Hunt High School principal Bill Williamson ordered staff to take them down. He determined the language on Gamwell's posters was disruptive and had nothing to do with his qualifications. Gamwell said if that was the case, other campaign posters should have been pulled.
Gamwell pointed to a student whose last name is Miller, who used the slogan, "It's Miller time." Gamwell said that poster was allowed to stay up.
"That's strictly alcoholic," he said. "You can't put that at school."
Said Will Winslow, chairman of the school board: "The one thing, I think, that would have come into play is if the one that said "Miller Time," which is more now almost a generic phrase, if it had portrayed folks drinking or shown Miller Beer, that poster would have been down mighty quick."
American Civil Liberties Union
argued removing the signs violated Gamwell's constitutional rights. The group filed a lawsuit against the school, demanding the posters go back up, but a judge denied that motion.
Wilson County school officials said the judge's decision reaffirms a principal's authority to manage school-related activities.
Winslow said he is disappointed the system got national attention over the issue. He does not think the schools treat gays or any group unfairly.
"I don't anticipate, right now, having to worry about this decision any further," he said.
Gamwell said he plans to start a gay-straight alliance club at Hunt High School next year. The ACLU is waiting to decide whether or not to take further action against the school.