After receiving a letter from Lambda Legal, Chesnee High School Principal Thomas Ezell agreed to allow student Brianna Popour to wear a t-shirt bearing the message “Nobody Knows I’m A Lesbian.” The openly lesbian senior was removed from class and sent home for wearing the t-shirt two weeks ago.
“I’m so happy that I can wear my t-shirt. Too many lesbian and gay students feel ashamed of who they are, and I’m glad the school won’t be contributing to that even more,” said Popour. “My shirt is just an expression of who I am, and I hope my school will help other students like me know that they can be proud of who they are, too.”
“We commend the school for reversing its position and following its legal obligations. But this is also a notice to school administrators across the state: Schools should be in the business of creating a safe and supportive environment for all students, not trampling on their right to express themselves honestly,” said Tara Borelli, Senior Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Southern Regional Office. “LGBT students should not be told that they are being ‘offensive and distracting’ just for openly acknowledging who they are. First Amendment rights apply to all students, and efforts to silence LGBT youth will not go unchallenged.”
Popour recently wore a t-shirt with a message that says “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian,” a shirt that she has worn before without incident. A school administrator pulled Popour out of class and informed her that her t-shirt was disruptive. Popour was told she could not remain in class if she continued to wear the t-shirt. In statements to the media, the school or district had insisted that the t-shirt was “offensive and distracting.”
In the letter sent to Chesnee High School Principal Thomas Ezell, Lambda Legal outlined the legal precedent supporting Popour’s right to wear the shirt. The First Amendment protects a student’s right to communicate expressive messages of many types, including those relating to the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Interfering with those rights based on disagreement with the message is unlawful. Last Friday, the school confirmed that Popour is free to wear her t-shirt, this disciplinary action will not be reflected in her school record, and the school administrator who wrongly disciplined her would apologize.
South Carolina is also one of eight states with a law that restricts the discussion of lesbian and gay people in certain curriculum, creating an official climate of discrimination that stigmatizes lesbian and gay students. State law does not restrict student speech, but it does bar schools from discussing lesbian or gay relationships in health education curriculum unless in the context of STDs, even while schools discuss heterosexual relationships.
You can read the full letter here.