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ACLU of Delaware launches First Amendment guide for LGBTQ students

Delaware Public Media

The ACLU of Delaware has launched a First Amendment rights handbook for LGBTQ students – to help students and staff navigate free speech and assembly challenges.

The handbook contains guidance about how free speech and assembly rights apply to LGBTQ students’ expression in schools. ACLU of Delaware Director Mike Brickner says they created it after hearing from Delaware students stymied by policies and decisions by school administrators over issues such as forming an LGBTQ student organization on campus.

But Brickner notes many cases of discrimination described by students could no longer be challenged in court. In some, the students had already graduated. He sees the handbook as a way to help students be proactive about defending their rights.

“It’s [frequently] not able to be fixed by a new federal lawsuit," he said. "But what we said was that often, if young people and their allies – family or educators – know about their rights, they can advocate for themselves in real time.”

Brickner adds that if the handbook helps students or teachers better assert their rights, it could potentially help keep vulnerable students in school.

“What we oftentimes see in those young people is that they want to engage less in school," he said. "We oftentimes see increased rates of absenteeism or truancy among LGBT students who aren’t receiving all the affirmation they need to live as themselves at school or at home.”

Brickner adds that while two Delaware school districts – Christina and Red Clay – passed policies protecting students from discrimination based on gender identity, the handbook may also be a resource for school administrators who aren’t yet familiar with federal caselaw on how the First Amendment applies to LGBTQ student rights.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.