Only Two Genders? School Officials Can Say You Can’t Say That, Federal Appeals Court Rules In Middleborough T-Shirt Case

Printed from:

A middle school in Middleborough was within its rights to ban a student’s T-shirt saying “There are only two genders,” a federal appeals court has ruled.

School officials have wide discretion over how to foster an environment conducive to learning, the panel of three judges, all appointed by Democratic presidents, said Monday.

The case centers on Liam Morrison, who as a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Nichols Middle School in Middleborough during the spring of 2023 wore to school a T-shirt saying “There are only two genders,” which school officials made him remove. He later wore a T-shirt saying “There are only censored genders,” which school officials also made him remove.

Morrison sued in U.S. District Court in Boston in May 2023, saying the school district violated his First Amendment right to free speech by not allowing him to wear the T-shirt.

Morrison lost his bid for a preliminary injunction at the lower court level in July 2023 when the judge, who is an Obama appointee, denied his motion.

In February 2024, a lawyer for Morrison argued before the appeals court panel that a public school can’t celebrate transgenderism with flags, posters, and teaching material and then censor dissent from the school’s prevailing message, as New Boston Post reported at the time.

But the federal appeals court said they can.

The school district argued that Morrison’s T-shirt demeaned students who identify with a gender other than the gender that corresponds to their biological sex. Morrison’s lawyers argued that it didn’t.

The federal appeals court panel said legally it doesn’t matter, so long as school officials reasonably believed it did.

“We see little sense in federal courts taking charge of defining the precise words that do or do not convey a message demeaning of such personal characteristics, so long as the words in question reasonably may be understood to do so by school administrators,” wrote David Barron, the chief judge of the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision for the three-judge panel issued Sunday, June 9.

The appeals court panel noted that the U.S. District Court judge “determined the message is reasonably understood to be an assertion, however sincerely believed, that individuals who do not identify as either male or female have no gender with which they may identify, as male and female are their only options.”

“We agree with the District Court and so cannot say the message, on its face, shows Middleborough acted unreasonably in concluding that the Shirt would be understood – in this middle school setting in which the children range from ten-to-fourteen years old – to demean the identity of transgender and gender-nonconforming NMS students,” Barron wrote.

Barron was appointed by President Barack Obama, as was another judge on the panel, O. Rogeriee Thompson. The third judge on the panel is Lara Montecalvo, who was appointed by President Joe Biden.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-of-center legal advocacy organization that represents Morrison, said in a written statement Monday, June 10 that it is “likely to appeal” the appeals court panel decision.

The case could go before the entire First Circuit Court of Appeals or to the U.S. Supreme Court.


New to NewBostonPost? Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts. But you’ve found it. Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months. And join the real revolution.