Middleborough Student Told To Change T-Shirt That Says ‘There Are Only Two Genders’

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/04/28/middleborough-student-told-to-change-t-shirt-that-says-there-are-only-two-genders/

A 12-year-old boy was asked by public school administrators to remove a T-shirt that they said violated the school district’s hate speech policies. When he refused, he left school for the day with his parents.

On Thursday, March 21, Liam Morrison, a seventh-grade student at Nichols Middle School in Middleborough, says he wore a T-shirt to school with the words “There are only two genders.” At gym class that day, Liam was pulled out to have a discussion with the acting principal of the school and a school counselor. During the meeting, a school administrator told Liam that his shirt had upset students and staff and, given its inappropriateness, that he must put on another shirt before returning to class.

“I feel like these adults were telling me that it wasn’t O.K. for me to have an opposing view,” Morrison said during a Middleborough School Committee meeting on April 13, describing the talk as “very uncomfortable.”

“I was told that people were complaining about the words on my shirt, that my shirt was making some students feel unsafe. Yes — words on a shirt made people feel unsafe. They told me that I wasn’t in trouble, but it sure felt like I was,” he said.

Morrison said that the acting principal asked him to change his shirt on the grounds that it violated the school’s dress code, which says in part that “clothing must not state, imply, or depict hate speech or imagery that target groups based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or any other classification.”

Morrison said the acting principal told him his shirt was “targeting a protected class.”

“Who is this protected class?” Morrison asked the school committee on Thursday, April 13. “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.”

Morrison said several kids had told him they supported him and wanted shirts similar to his. He said no other kids complained to him about the shirt.

School officials also told Morrison the shirt was a “disruption to learning,” he said. But he questioned that statement, too.

“No one got up and stormed out of class,” Morrison told school committee members. “No one burst into tears. I’m sure I would have noticed if they had. I experienced disruptions to my learning every day. Kids acting out in class are a disruption yet nothing is done. Why do the rules apply to one yet not another?”

“Even at 12 years old,” Morrison said, “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.” 

“Next time it may not only be me, there might be more students that decide to speak out,” he continued.

A reporter from NewBostonPost spoke with Morrison by telephone on Friday, April 28. Asked as to why he wore the shirt, Morrison said, “I wanted to be able to voice my opinion on a subject that was very popular at the time and on a subject that I thought a lot of other people’s views were incorrect.”



A lawyer for the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative organization that advocates for religious liberty and families, sent a letter to the school district’s superintendent, Carolyn Lyons, accusing staff at Nichols Middle School of violating Morrison’s free-speech rights.

The letter, signed by Samuel Whiting, a staff lawyer with the organization, says that “on the basis of a few complaints by unnamed students and staff, NMS censored Liam’s expression of political speech on a topic of ongoing public debate. In doing so, it is clear that NMS violated Liam’s right to free speech.”

Whiting’s letter also says the shirt “did not threaten students or staff who identify as transgender. It did not express ill will, disdain, or judgment toward them. Indeed, the shirt did not mention transgender-identifying people at all.”

The letter, a copy of which is provided at the bottom of this story, concludes by notifying the school that Morrison would be wearing the shirt again on Friday, May 5, and hinting at legal action if the school takes similar actions to the ones it took on March 21.

“Massachusetts Family Institute is grateful for young students like Liam who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in,” a spokesman for the organization told NewBostonPost by email Friday. Some people may like what Liam’s shirt said, and others may dislike it. But the point is that under our Constitution, he has the right to say it. Without voices like Liam’s, kids in public school are only hearing one side of the important discussion about gender identity. That’s why MFI is proud to support Liam in standing up against his school’s disregard for his right to free speech.”

NewBostonPost was unable to reach the acting principal Friday.

NewBostonPost also contacted the superintendent, Carolyn Lyons, and school committee chairman, Richard Young, for comment Thursday night. They could not immediately be reached.

On the morning of Thursday, April 13 — hours before the school committee meeting at which Liam Morrison spoke — a protest by two adults took place outside Nichols Middle School with signs that read “There are only two genders” and “Keep woke politics out of our schools,” according to Nemasket Week, a news web site that covers the area, which published a story about it on April 18.

Lyons criticized that protest during the school committee meeting that night — the same meeting at which Morrison told his experience. She did not address Morrison’s comments.

Today, our division defined us instead of our similarities,” Lyons said. Today, our children were caught in the crossfire of a debate that doesn’t belong at their feet. It doesn’t belong at their schoolhouse. This is unacceptable to me. Our children deserve the right to go to school in a safe and supportive environment.

Later Lyons said that “exposing our children to messages that marginalized groups of students is a safety issue.”

NewBostonPost today has published the full transcript of superintendent Carolyn Lyons’s comments. NewBostonPost has also published the full transcript of Liam Morrison’s address to the school committee.

Below is a link to the Massachusetts Family Institute letter to the superintendent:

Massachusetts Family Insitute Letter to Superintendent Carolyn Lyons on Thursday, April 27



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