Massachusetts Federal Court Rules on Student Wearing ‘Two Genders’ T-Shirt

Did a Massachusetts middle school violate a student’s right to free speech by telling him he could not wear a T-shirt that said, “There are only two genders?”

Taken to Court

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Despite the student bringing his claim all the way to a federal appeals court, his efforts seem to be in vain because the court ultimately sided with the school asking him to not wear the shirt.

Demeaning LGBTQ+ Students

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In the appeal, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals felt the message on the shirt demeaned transgender and gender non-conforming students’ identities.

Who Should Bar Them

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“The question here is not whether the t-shirts should have been barred,” Chief U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron stated. “The question is who should decide whether to bar them – educators or federal judges.”

A Year Long Debate

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The student in question is a seventh-grader at Nichols Middle School named Liam Morrison, who was banned from wearing the shirt all the way back in March 2023.

The Day After a Pride Parade

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Liam choose to wear the shirt stating, “There are only two genders” the day after his school held a Pride Day event and this ultimately led to his removal from the school.

Morrison’s Defense Team

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Morrison’s received legal support from the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom who quickly jumped at the opportunity to take part in this case centering on a conservative talking point.

First Amendment Rights

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The lawyers from the Alliance Defending Freedom argued that his Morrison’s First Amendment rights were violated by the school’s decision to not let him wear the shirt.

Losing Free Speech

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Morrison’s attorney, David Cortman, said in a statement “Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building.”

Violating Dress Code

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Teachers at Nichols Middle School asked Morrison to remove the shirts or leave the school, arguing that the shirt’s message violated the school’s dress code against hate speech.

Upholding the Decisions

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Chief U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron and two other Democratic appointees, upheld the original decision because they felt the teachers had the right decide whether or not the shirt was harmful to other students.

Who Should Decide

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Judge Barron said, “The question here is not whether the t-shirts should have been barred. The question is who should decide whether to bar them – educators or federal judges.”

Citing the Supreme Court

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When making their decision, the court cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, which ruled that students do not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they step onto school property.

Disrupting Students

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In Tinker v. Des Moines, students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War were suspended from school because the educators felt the arm bands were a disruption to school operations.

Siding With Students

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Ultimately, the Supreme Court sided with the students, believing that the school’s actions were unconstitutional since the students’ protest did not disrupt school operations.

Harming Students

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While the Supreme Court felt the black arm bands did not disrupt school operations, the appeals court found the shirts’ messages could harm LGBTQ+ students and disrupt the educational environment.

A Serious Negative Impact

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The court said, “We think it was reasonable for Middleborough to forecast that a message displayed throughout the school day denying the existence of the gender identities of transgender and gender non-conforming students would have a serious negative impact on those students’ ability to concentrate on their classroom work.”

Broader Legal and Social Context

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Unfortunately, this case seems to be part of a broader trend of conservative legal challenges to school policies that protect LGBTQ+ students from harassment and respect their identities. 

Free Speech Cases

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In the majority of these lawsuits targeting protections for LGBTQ+ students, they focus on free speech and claims of religious freedom.

Increasing Legislative Efforts

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Nationwide, there has also been an increase in legislative efforts to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people, including access to gender-affirming care and participation in sports.

The post Massachusetts Federal Court Rules on Student Wearing ‘Two Genders’ T-Shirt  first appeared on Pulse of Pride.

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