The Wimberley Independent School District is threatening legal action against a group of parents who “expressed their support for LGBTQ students” by creating a graphic that combined the Wimberley High School Texans logo with a rainbow flag, posting the graphic on Facebook and then making T-shirts with that logo during the city of Wimberley’s first LGBT Pride March last fall, according to an article by Brian Klosterboer on the ACLU of Texas website.

Bryan Burke, parent of a WISD student, said that creating and posting the graphic “symbolize[d] a hug to those [LGBTQ] kids that hide in the shadows during their WISD experience out of fear. It lets them know they are just as important as any of child in the district.”

Wimberley is located about an hour southwest of Austin. The controversy started last September when Wimberley ISD School Board member Lori Olson posted a photo of herself on the Wimberley Pride March Facebook page wearing a t-shirt bearing the Texans/rainbow flag graphic, according to Spectrum News in San Antonio. Olson wrote that her “hear is full with all the wonderful people” marching in the town’s first Pride parade, and that she stood “in solidarity with everyone involved” even though she was at a meeting in Dallas and could not attend herself.

WISD Superintendent Dwain York then sent an email to parents claiming that the Texan logo was an official brand and declaring that any alteration would suggest a district endorsement, Spectrum News reported at the time. He said that any altered form of the logo would not be approved by any board member or administrator and that using the official logo in any way required written approval from the superintendent.

The school district was threatening legal action unless those parents who had posted the graphic on social media removed it from their personal pages by Monday, Jan. 6, Klosterboer wrote. He said that several of the parents had removed the post from their social media, and accused WISD of “silencing their voices in a way that is not only wrong — it’s unconstitutional.”

Pointing out that the WHS Texans logo “for years … appears to have been used by other in the community without incident,” Klosterboer wrote. That includes local businesses using the logo in promotional signs and even one business selling t-shirts featuring the logo with a Christian cross symbol behind it. But it wasn’t until someone combined the logo with the rainbow flag that the school district got upset and threatened to sue.

Klosterboer said that while the district claims that it is simply protecting its copyrights and trademarks, “it has no basis to silence the parents’ expression, even under federal law. Transforming a logo to convey a political message falls squarely into what’s known as the ‘fair use’ doctrine,” which allows people to “transform copyrighted material and use it in multiple ways, including for public criticism and comment, like if a climate protester altered an oil company’s logo to criticize its role in climate change.”

Klosterboer said that WISD has “lost sight of what is truly important” and instead of trying to find ways to better protect LGBTQ students, the district “seem[s] to have spent hours scanning social media in an effort to harass parents and police free expression online.”

And to make matters worse, he added, WISD voted not to add specific protectsions for LGBTQ students to its nondiscrimination policies last November.

ACLU has sent the district a letter “urging them to immediately stop taking unlawful actions against Wimberley parents” and to start “respecting everyone’s First Amendment rights and doing what it can to ensure that the district is free from harassment and discrimination,” Klosterboer said, adding that anyone who knows of a student or parent being similarly harassed contact the ACLU of Texas.

Brian Klosterboer joined the ACLU of Texas as a Skadden Fellow in 2018. He focuses on defending the rights of LGBTQ young adults, particularly those at risk of homelessness.