MADISONVILLE (WATE) – A student says he was assaulted by his principal for wearing a T-shirt supporting a Gay Straight Alliance club at his school.
Students at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville began pushing for the club in August, but said they were facing obstacles from school administrators.
A senior named Chris Sigler now says the principal assaulted him over a T-shirt he was wearing to promote the club.
"This is my homemade T-shirt that represents what I want GSA to stand for," said Sigler, as he showed the hand-painted T-shirt with the letters GSA written on the back.
Sigler wore the T-shirt he made to school on Friday.
"The principal called me in and said you are going to either change your shirt, turn it inside out, or call your mother," explained Sigler.
Sigler says he felt it was right to keep wearing the shirt, so he chose to call his mother and return to class, leaving the shirt on. That's when he says things escalated between him and Principal Maurice Moser.
"In the middle of the test, he came into the classroom and evacuated it. He grabbed me by the shirt. When I tried to walk away, he pushed me back at which time I hit a wall," said Chris.
Sigler's sister, Jessica, says even though the principal asked everyone to leave the classroom, she chose to stay in the room with her brother.
"Moser was inches away from his face, taunting him like he wanted him to fight," Jessica said.
They say the incident ended when their mother, Linda, arrived at the school. "He was being extra aggressive. That's when I had to tell him to step away from my son," Linda Sigler said.
The Siglers filed a police report. As law enforcement and the school look into the matter, the school has released this written statement, saying, "The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We'll gladly provide more information as it becomes available."
The American Civil Liberties Union is backing the family.
"It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee.
Sigler says he hopes the incident will help change the environment for younger generations at his school.
"I'd like to see homophobia start leaving the school and things to come back to education, not harassment," he said.
Sigler says he would like to see students wearing T-shirts like the one he wore to school without the fear of being targeted for their sexual orientation.