On Friday, a federal judge in Massachusettes ruled a shirt that read “THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS” could be construed as bullying of a protected class and is not protected speech after a 12-year-old and his father filed suit against officials in the Middlesbrough Public School district for First and Fourteenth Amendment rights violations.
Judge Indira Talwani said in the court ruling, the boy and his father had “not established a likelihood of success on the merits where he is unable to counter Defendants’ showing that enforcement of the Dress Code was undertaken to protect the invasion of the rights of other students to a safe and secure educational environment.”
“School administrators were well within their discretion to conclude that the statement ‘THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS’ may communicate that only two gender identities–male and female–are valid, and any others are invalid or nonexistent,” the ruling continued, “and to conclude that students who identify differently, whether they do so openly or not, have a right to attend school without being confronted by messages attacking their identities.”
Trans and gender non-conforming students are considered a protected class under Massachusetts law, and while this shirt does not constitute the bullying of a single student, the ruling says that the school was justified because it could make “a group of potentially vulnerable students” not feel safe.
Citing multiple precedents, the judge ruled that “A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, [ ] even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.” So there was no constitutional violation that occurred.
In reaction to the ruling, defense attorney Marina Medvin wrote on Twitter, “As someone who grew up in the USSR getting her teeth drilled without novocaine the idea that today’s US kids complain and prohibit— with the help of judges— another kid from wearing a shirt stating a scientific fact b/c it hurts their feelings is just…”
The lawsuit came after the 12-year-old boy was sent home from school on March 21 for wearing the t-shirt to school. He was told by adults at the school that his shirt was “making some students feel unsafe.” The boy refused to remove his shirt, and his father later came to pick him up.
The boy said in a statement at a school board meeting, picked up by Libs of TikTok, he was told his shirt was “targeting a protected class,” to which he questioned “Who is this protected class and are their feelings more important than my rights?”
“I don’t complain when I see pride flags and diversity posters hung throughout this school,” he continued. “Because others have a right to their beliefs just as I do.”
The boy tried to wear the shirt again but slapped the word “censored” over “genders,” so it read, “THERE ARE ONLY TWO CENSORED.” He was called to the principal’s office again, but removed the shirt in question before the meeting.
The boy said he wants others to feel comfortable speaking up for themselves and expressing themselves “without being pulled out of class.”