In December 2011 we told you about the case of Skye Wyatt, who was 16 when her softball coaches at Kilgore High School in East Texas outed her as a lesbian to her mother in 2009.
It seems the coaches, Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, had discovered that Wyatt was dating an 18-year-old named Hillary Nutt. The coaches believed Wyatt had started a rumor that Nutt was Newell’s ex-girlfriend and that the coach herself was gay. So they proceeded to lock Wyatt in a locker room, where they allegedly threatened and interrogated her, before kicking her off the team and outing her to her mom.
Wyatt and her mother, Barbara, filed a federal lawsuit against Kilgore ISD and the coaches accusing them of violating Skye’s privacy. A federal district judge in Tyler ruled in favor of the Wyatts in November 2011, but last Friday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit reversed that decision, according to Courthouse News.
“There is no clearly established law holding that a student in a public secondary school has a privacy right under the Fourteenth Amendment that precludes school officials from discussing with a parent the student’s private matters, including matters relating to sexual activity of the student,” Judge Grady Jolly wrote for the majority.
The Wyatts’ attorney, Wayne Krause of the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, told us the district judge’s ruling marked the first time a court in the 5th Circuit — which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — has identified a constitutional right to privacy for sexual orientation information.
“It’s one thing to say that conduct by LGBT people can’t be criminalized under the Constitution,” Krause said in 2011, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the state’s sodomy ban. “It’s another to say there’s an explicit constitutional right to have information about sexual orientation be kept confidential.”
It’s unclear whether Krause intends to appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. But for now, the 5th Circuit’s decision appears to give schools a license to out students as gay to their parents — which, frankly, seems like a horrible idea. As the Wyatts’ original complaint stated: “Discrimination, bullying and the infliction of emotional trauma against students who are gay or believed to be gay is a nationally recognized problem. Defendants’ actions and policies exacerbate this problem and set a very harmful example to students, teachers, and parents in Kilgore ISD.”