Students who wore anti-gay T-shirts to their suburban Chicago high school during "Ally Week" won't be punished, but the shirts have caused an outcry among students and activists alike.
St. Charles North High School, about 60 miles northwest of Chicago, had organized the anti-bullying week in response to the many tragic suicides of gay teens around the country in recent months, according to the suburban Daily Herald. Nationally, Ally Week was observed in mid-October, through the efforts of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
But as students showed up to school Monday, they saw some peers presenting a different message. Nick Swedberg at the St. Charles Patch reports that three students were wearing shirts with the words "Straight Pride" on the front, and a quotation from Leviticus on the back: "If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH."
"That's where the bad feelings started, because they chose to wear the shirts on a day specifically about gay teen suicide," student Amanda Harshbarger told the Daily Herald. "What the shirts said were making kids feel violated and intimidated."
After a lengthy discussion with the T-shirt-wearing students, administrators asked them to black out the Bible quote with permanent marker, and they voluntarily agreed, the Chicago Tribune reports.
But it wasn't over: the following day, two other students wore "Straight Pride" T-shirts, this time without the quote on the back. School officials asked them to wear sweatshirts to cover them up; again they complied, but this time not quite so graciously. Again, the Daily Herald speaks to the student in question:
"I was shocked," [senior Jake] Pezzuto said. "There is clearly a double standard here, and we're really upset about this. They said the reason we can't wear 'Straight Pride' shirts is because they are disruptive. And I can understand how maybe some people were intimidated by the shirts with the Bible verse. But I don't understand how some students are able to wear 'Gay Pride' shirts while we can't wear shirts that just say 'Straight Pride.'"
Deans at the school, however, felt that the "Straight Pride" shirt carried enough baggage from the day before that it was likely to be viewed as insulting.
Still, as district officials reported Tuesday, none of the students will face disciplinary action.
That seemed like an error in judgment to some. Michael Fairbanks, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at neighboring St. Charles East, was one who thought the students deserved to face consequences.
"The quote on the back of the shirts were pretty much a death threat towards all of the gay and lesbian people at St. Charles North," Fairbanks wrote in an email received by the St. Charles Republican. "When people are being emotionally hurt and distracted from having a healthy and safe learning environment, the bullies should be persecuted and punished."
According to the Tribune, over 100 students have signed up on Facebook to attend the district's upcoming Board meeting, at which the school's response to the shirts will be discussed.