In her 18 years as a high school coach, Wendy Weaver led the girls’ volleyball team to four state titles and was considered an exemplary teacher and role model.
That all changed when she divorced her husband and moved in with another woman.
She was abruptly fired this summer as coach at Spanish Fork High School, told by her principal that the “perception” of her had changed. And she was warned that she would also lose her job teaching physical education and psychology if she made any comments to students, staff or parents about her “homosexual orientation or lifestyle.”
On Tuesday, the 40-year-old mother of two filed a federal lawsuit against the Nebo School District, contending she was illegally fired as coach for being a lesbian and that the district’s gag order violates her right to freedom of expression.
“I’ve been a good coach and a good teacher. I’ve never done anything that has infringed on anybody,” Weaver, fighting tears, said in an interview. “Then, all of the sudden, I was not living the lifestyle they wanted me to live or being the role model I had always been.”
Unable to find a lawyer who would take her case in the conservative, mostly Mormon community of Spanish Fork - about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City - Weaver sought out the American Civil Liberties Union.
“This strikes to the very heart of what the ACLU is all about,” said Carol Gnade, the organization’s executive director in Utah. “The right to not have government tell you what you can and cannot do in your private life.”
Weaver said she is not interested in becoming an activist for gay rights but believes the gag order is unnecessarily restrictive in a town of 17,500 where so many people are connected in some way to the school.
Under the order, if Weaver is asked about her lifestyle, “you shall tell them that the subject is private and personal and inappropriate to discuss with them.”
“It’s really so extreme that it means she can’t talk to anyone,” said David Watkiss, Weaver’s attorney.
Principal Robert Wadley, who is named as a defendant, had no comment on the suit. Larry Kimball, Nebo’s director of secondary education and a defendant in the suit, said the district had no comment.
“She’s the best thing that ever happened to Spanish Fork athletics,” said Helen Hjorth, a 1994 graduate who plays varsity volleyball at Brigham Young University and names Weaver in the BYU media guide as her greatest influence in sports.
“There was no reason to fire her except for her personal lifestyle, and I think that’s pretty lame,” Hjorth said. “People who know Wendy know she would never do anything.”