Originally published on Advocate.com July 19 2003 12:00 AM ET
A gay teenager who sued his school district, claiming it violated his freedom of speech when he was disciplined for talking about his sexual orientation, settled the lawsuit Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal suit in April against the Pulaski County Special School District on behalf of Thomas McLaughlin, 14, who attended Jacksonville Junior High School. "It's like it's been lifted," McLaughlin said Thursday. "I'm really glad that this is all over and that the ACLU is making the school treat gay students the way they should have been treated in the first place. No more students should
have to go through what I did." According to the agreement, the district will pay McLaughlin and his parents $25,000 in damages and attorneys fees, write McLaughlin a letter of apology, and clear his disciplinary record. Superintendent Don Henderson said Thursday through his secretary that the
suit was settled to everyone's satisfaction and that the district and its staff were moving on and putting the case behind them.
McLaughlin's lawyers claimed that teachers at the school disciplined him for speaking about being gay. They also claimed that he was forced to read condemnatory passages from the Bible and that the school had told his parents that he is gay. The settlement terms also require the school not to disclose any student's sexual orientation or punish students for talking about sexual orientation or discipline when they're not in class. The district also said it wouldn't preach to students or punish students for talking, outside classes, about their sexual orientation. However, McLaughlin said that he doubts the settlement will cause reforms at his old school. "I don't think they're going to change anything," he said. "But I would like to hope that they would."