Student victim of gay “witch-hunt” wins in court but faces backlash from neighbours
A student who sued her headmaster for conducting a homophobic “witch-hunt” is facing a hostile response from local residents.
Heather Gillman, of Ponce de Leon High School in Florida, was outraged when a lesbian classmate (who wishes to remain anonymous) was told that homosexuality was wrong by her headmaster.
The headmaster, David Davis, also told the girl’s parents that she is gay, and ordered her to stay away from children.
The girl had asked Mr Davis for advice because she was being bullied about her sexuality by other students.
Heather Gillman and other supporters of the gay student began wearing rainbow coloured clothing and pride badges to school in protest.
The students were promptly suspended by Mr Davis, who went on to question other students about their sexuality.
Ms Gillman complained to her mother, Ardena, who alerted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the issue.
She said: “What happens when these kids get out in the real world after they leave Ponce de Leon and they have a black homosexual supervisor at their job?”
The ACLU successfully sued the school on Ms Gillman’s behalf in January.
The district county Judge Richard Smoak ruled that Davis had violated Ms Gillman’s human rights.
He was demoted, and all school employees ordered to take sensitivity training.
Judge Smoak said in his ruling:
“Davis embarked on what can only be characterized as a witch hunt to identify students who were homosexual and their supporters, further adding fuel to the fire.
“He went so far as to lift the shirts of female students to ensure the letters ‘GP’ or the words ‘Gay Pride’ were not written on their bodies.”
“Freedom of speech for every person and every idea is one of the bedrock principles on which America was founded,” said Christine Sun, a staff attorney with the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
“Censorship reflects a deep lack of faith in the American system, and it teaches students exactly the wrong lesson on what America is about.
“We are thrilled that the court in this case made the importance of students’ First Amendment rights so completely clear.”
Holmes County’s school superintended Steve Griffin was responsible for Mr Davis’ demotion.
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Mr Griffin, however, tried to put the incident into context.
“We are a small, rural district in the Bible Belt with strong Christian beliefs and feel like homosexuality is wrong,” He said .
“I don’t think we are that different from a lot of districts, at least in the panhandle, that have beliefs that maybe are different from societal changes,” Mr Griffin continued.
The school district was ordered to pay $325,000 (£174,999) in legal ACLU legal fees.
The case has led to adversity against the Gillmans.
Ardena Gillman has suffered verbal abuse in public from local residents, accusing her of “bankrupting” the school, whilst others claim that Mr Davis is a hero.