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|Interview: Alpharetta student suing school over denied LGBT prom resolution speaks out|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|March 23, 2012 13:14|
Reuben Lack is not your ordinary high school senior. “He's not your popular kid. He's not a football player or a cheerleader. He's your policy kid,” Reuben's father, Nathaniel Lack says of his son.
“The only time he's ever been in trouble at school was because he was on his cellphone during class,” his father says. “He was checking Supreme Court rulings.”
Lack, 18, is the captain of the Alpharetta High School debate team and until Feb. 8, he was also the school's Student Body President. But after introducing an LGBT-friendly resolution during a student council meeting, Lack was told by school officials that he was being removed from his position for “pushing personal projects.” The resolution would make the school's prom more inclusive to gay and lesbian students.
His removal prompted Lack to look for options on how to regain his job. After failing to come to an agreement with school officials, Lack filed a federal lawsuit on March 20 in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta District.
Lack alleges in the lawsuit that he was removed as Student Body President as punishment for pursuing the LGBT-friendly prom resolution. Lack's idea was to rename the “Prom King and Queen” to something more gender neutral, like “Prom Court.”
“They've damaged my reputation in some respects,” Lack tells GA Voice. “They're putting out the position that I was a bad leader, which is hurtful to me because I respect the students, I respect the school.”
Lack says that many AHS students have been supportive of his lawsuit.
“I think we've gotten a tremendous amount of support from students. They're all supporting me behind the idea that it's a discussion that we need to have.”
Lack, who is straight, says that he's received support from gay and straight people from across the country since the story broke earlier this week.
“I've spoken to them, they've been generally supportive of the idea that I'm standing up for them,” Lack says. “I'm getting contacts from people around the country from places like Texas and New York.”
Lack's story was picked up by national media in the days following the lawsuit filing. He says that he is surprised by how quickly the story has spread. “It made the front page of Reddit,” Lack jokes.
Lack says his goal in filing a lawsuit is clear: he simply wants his job back.
“In the immediacy, we want to get myself reinstated to the student council,” Lack says. “There's only two months left. In those two months, I can do a lot of good for my school.” Lack said he intends to reintroduce the prom resolution if he is reinstated.
Lack says that he's not sure what motivated the student council faculty adviser to force the council to drop the debate on the LGBT-friendly prom resolution.
“In the meeting, the teacher adviser was visibly uncomfortable when I brought it up. I can only speculate to what her motivation was. We were coming to a consensus and I think that's why she shot it down.
“Beyond that, there's a larger issue,” Lack continues. “If we don't win this, schools have carte blanche to remove students when they have controversial viewpoints, even when that viewpoint is expressed in a meaningful and constructive way.”
Lack's attorney, James Radford, says that the law is on his client's side.
“There's a whole line of cases about first amendment rights in schools,” Radford says. “Students retain their First Amendment rights so long as their speech is not substantially disruptive. The school cannot punish speech like that when it's protected.”
Radford is optimistic.
“We're on the right side of the law and the facts on this case. I think we will prevail,” Radford adds. “I don't know if we're going to have to fight them until the bitter end or if they'll be willing to work with us. I'm going to do whatever I can to get him reinstated.”
As for what's next for Lack, the high school senior says he will be attending college in the fall. His top three choices are Dartmouth, Harvard and Emory, three schools with acclaimed debate teams. He hopes to become a lawyer.
No hearings have been scheduled in the case, but Radford says that he's asked the court for an expedited hearing.
"We just filed the lawsuit. We've asked the court for an immediate hearing. We haven't gotten a date for that yet. We hope that it will be soon. Every day that passes is a day that he's deprived of an honor that he's earned," Radford adds.
In addition to seeking to be reinstated as the school's Student Body President, Lack is also suing for punitive damages and legal costs.
Top photo: Reuben Lack is suing Alpharetta High School after he was forcefully removed from his position as Student Body President for introducing an LGBT-friendly prom resolution, according to a lawsuit filed by Lack (by Ryan Watkins)
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