Do Students Have a Right not to be Outed?

The ACLU has found itself a strong test case for determining whether a student’s right to privacy is violated when he or she is “outed” to the community by their school. A principal in Memphis, Tennessee, apparently in order to cut down on public displays of affection in school, asked her staff to put together a list of school couples, both straight and gay, and then posted that list publicly, thereby outing an untold number of student romances, including that of a 17-year old gay student, who is now suing for damages. It is a somewhat complex case, from a legal point of view, not only because gay and straight couples were treated equally by the overbearing principal, but because the gay couple obviously was sufficiently public about their romance to broadcast it within the school community and end up on the list. So from the point of view of a complaint for discriminatory treat, and for violation of privacy, they might have an uphill climb.

The ACLU took on a similar case in 2005, involving a student in California who was outed when her principal called her mother and complained about her kissing and holding hands with a female classmate in school. In that case, a federal judge that the student had "sufficiently alleged a legally protected privacy interest in information about her sexual orientation.”

Regardless of how one feels about the privacy of students inside the schoolhouse gates, one has to acknowledge the bizarreness of this war on cuddling. Surely there are more pressing concerns in our public schools than too much affection – especially of the reciprocal, monogamous sort. It causes one to wonder why schools aren't spending more time and energy teaching the kids math.

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