A Massachusetts middle school student challenged his town’s school board after he was sent home school for wearing a shirt emblazoned with the message, “There are only two genders.”
Liam Morrison, 12, told the Middleborough School Council that his father had to pick him up from John T. Nichols Jr. Middle School on March 21 because he refused to change his t-shirt.
“I never thought that the shirt I wore to school on March 21 would lead me to speak with you today,” Liam began. “On that Tuesday morning, I was taken out of gym class to sit down with two adults for what turned out to be a very uncomfortable talk. I was told that people were complaining about the words on my shirt and the shirt was making some students feel unsafe.”
The boy said the adults’ assurances he was not in trouble did little to calm his fears.
“I was told that I would need to remove my shirt before I could return to class,” he said. “When I nicely told them that I didn’t want to do that, they called my father. Thankfully, my dad, supportive of my decisions, came to pick me up.”
Liam told the council his shirt more no profaner hateful message.
“What did my shirt say?” he asked. “Five simple words: ‘There are only two genders.’ Nothing harmful. Nothing threatening. Just a statement I believe to be a fact.”
“I have been told that my shirt was targeting a protected class,” he said. “Who is this protected class? Are their feelings more important than my rights? I don’t complain when I see Pride flags and diversity posters hung throughout the school. Do you know why? Because others have a right to their beliefs just as I do.”
Liam said no one had complained to him about the shirt before he was pulled aside.
“Actually, just the opposite,” he said. “Several kids told me that they supported my actions and that they wanted one, too.”
“I was told that my shirt was a disruption in learning,” he continued. “No one got up and stormed out of class. No one burst into tears. I’m sure I would have noticed if they had.”
School officials concerned about disruptions should focus on unruly behavior, not slogans on shirts, he said.
“I experience disruptions to my learning every day,” Liam said. “Kids acting out in class are a disruption, yet nothing is done. Why do the rules apply to one and yet not another? I feel like these adults were telling me that it wasn’t okay to have an opposing view.”
“I have learned a lot from this experience; I learned that a lot of other students share my view; I learned that adults don’t always do the right thing or make the right decisions,” he declared. “I know that I have a right to wear the shirt with those five words; even at 12 years old I have my own political opinions and I have a right to express those opinions. Even at school, this right is called the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
“My hope in being here tonight is to bring the school committee’s attention to this issue; I hope that you will speak up for the rest of us so that we can express ourselves without being pulled out of class. Next time it might not only be me; it might be more students that decide to speak out,” he concluded.