Twelve-Year-Old Sues Middleborough Public Schools Over ‘There Are Only Two Genders’ T-Shirt

Printed from:

Liam Morrison, 12, is suing Middleborough school officials for preventing him from wearing a T-shirt that says “There are only two genders.” 

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, May 17 in U.S. District Court in Boston, names as defendants the town of Middleborough, the Middleborough School Committee, superintendent Carolyn Lyons, and acting principal Heather Tucker.

“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” the sixth-grader’s complaint says, arguing that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents a student’s speech from being censored under “vague standards.”

Under the speech policy used by the school district to make Morrison change his T-shirt, “school officials can censor expression that they deem inappropriate or that they subjectively determine targets a certain group even if this expression is not materially and substantially disruptive,” the complaint says.

NewBostonPost contacted Lyons, Tucker, and Richard Young, chairman of the Middleborough School Committee, on Wednesday, May 17. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

The school’s handbook states 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.”

The handbook also says that any “other apparel that the administration determines to be unacceptable to our community standards will not be allowed.”

Morrison’s complaint points out that the debate on gender is controversial and unsettled, a debate “about what makes a person a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, or even whether those categories themselves have any meaning at all.”

Next, the complaint states that the school allows one view on this topic — that gender is on a spectrum — and discourages another, that “there are only two genders.”

For instance, the school celebrates Pride Month and has a “PRIDE Spirit Week,” where students were encouraged to wear “a positive message of acceptance/love” and “your Pride gear to celebrate Pride Month.” A copy of the newsletter is below.

The lawsuit also identifies instances in the handbook that appear to agree with Morrison’s view, with parts saying that the school’s education must be available to “both sexes” and defining an example of sexual harassment as “written materials or pictures derogatory to either gender.”

According to documents submitted to the court, Chris Morrison, Liam’s father, sent an email message to superintendent Carolyn Lyons on Saturday, April 1 questioning why Liam was removed from class, pointing out several things Liam would later say in his address to the school committee on Thursday, April 13. Among them is that Liam was told his shirt was a disruption to class while other students got away with disruptive behavior.

“My son is now asking me why he is not allowed to express his own political statement when he sees others doing the same every day in their choice of clothes, pins, posters, and speech,” Chris Morrison’s email message says.

Lyons responded to the email message on Tuesday, April 4, saying she agreed with the decision of acting-principal Heather Tucker to remove Liam from class since Liam’s shirt “targeted students of a protected class.” 

On April 27, Massachusetts Family Institute sent a letter to Lyons saying that the principal’s action and the policy that formed the basis for it violated Morrison’s freedom of speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the federal constitution. The letter also informed Lyons that Morrison planned to wear the shirt again on May 5.

Lyons responded to the letter through a lawyer on May 4, saying that Morrison would not be allowed to wear the T-shirt and would be asked to change it if he wore it the next day. Morrison instead wore an altered shirt that said “There are CENSORED genders.” Morrison was told to remove that T-shirt.

Morrison’s lawsuit explains that Morrison is not wearing the shirt only for fear of punishment from the school. The school’s handbook says that violation of the dress code could lead to detention or suspension.

These rules “remain in place,” the lawsuit says, “and serve to chill and deter Liam’s (and other students’) expression.”


Morrison’s Lawsuit Filed on Wednesday, May 17

Chris Morrison’s Email to Carolyn Lyons; Lyons’ Response

Nichol’s Middle School Newsletter Advertising “Pride Week”


New to NewBostonPost? How many media outlets in Massachusetts do you consider religion-friendly? Well, you’ve found one. Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months. And join the real revolution.