LGBTQ Equality and Free Expression - In November 1998, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins ruled favorably on our case, Weaver v. Nebo School District. The ACLU of Utah filed the complaint in 1997 on behalf of Wendy Weaver, a long-term teacher at Spanish Fork High School in Utah County. The complaint argued that school officials had violated Weaver’s First Amendment rights when they made her sign a gag order prohibiting her from talking about her sexual orientation in or outside of the classroom.
School officials also refused to allow Weaver to return to her successful position coaching girls’ volleyball. In addition to the First Amendment claims, our complaint argued that Weaver’s Equal Protection rights were violated as well, because school officials reprimanded her for one reason only – they found out that she is a lesbian.
In his landmark decision issued November 25, 1998, Judge Jenkins agreed with Weaver’s First Amendment claims, and ordered the school district to remove the gag order from her file and allow her to coach during the 1999-2000 volleyball season. He also awarded Weaver $1,500 in damages – the amount she would have earned coaching the team. In a significant legal victory for gays and lesbians, Jenkins upheld the complaint’s Equal Protection claims as well, stating persuasively that, "Although the Constitution cannot control prejudices, neither this court nor any other court should, directly or indirectly, legitimize them." He noted that while Weaver was threatened with disciplinary action, no other teacher in the school district faced the same restrictions, and school officials were unable to point to any problems since her sexual orientation was revealed.
The state did not appeal the decision, which now provides strong and persuasive authority in similar cases. Indeed, it has been noted as the best decision involving gay teachers in the country.