Ali Chaney wore this shirt proudly, only to be reprimanded by administrators at her middle school. (Photo: Stephen Adams/KCEN)
School administrators reprimanded a 13-year-old girl for showing up to school wearing an LGBT-positive T-shirt this week, deeming the message “distracting” and “disruptive.”
The shirt bore the phrase, “Some people are gay. Get over it!” in rainbow-hued letters, and was worn by Ali Chaney of Copperas Cove, Tex. “It’s just a shirt, and it’s not hurting anybody,” Chaney, who is gay, told KCEN-TV.
But the SC Lee Junior High School maintains that the shirt violated the dress code, releasing a statement through its Copperas Cove Independent School District that notes, “Our purpose at CCISD is to educate children, first and foremost. According to CCISD’s dress code in the Student Handbook and Code of Conduct, clothing that is disruptive to the learning environment based on reactions by other students is prohibited. The student was offered a school shirt to wear and declined.” The district also informed KCEN-TV that, recently, a student was told to change out of a Miley Cyrus “twerk it” shirt “without incident.”
Chaney’s mother, Cassie Watson, wrote about the situation on Facebook on Monday in a post that has since been shared nearly 1,000 times.
Ali Chaney, left, and her mom, Cassie Watson, speaking with a local news reporter. (Photo: KCEN-TV)
“So friends and family…today was a heartbreaking eye opener for my daughter Ali Chaney. She was discriminated against for wearing a T-shirt about people being gay,” Watson wrote. “10 minutes into school she was called to the principal’s office. She was met by all the administration in one office and was essentially bullied. She was told she could not leave the office until a parent brought her another shirt. She asked why and was told they weren’t going to tolerate ‘that’ in their school. My daughter became immediately upset, as she felt she was being attacked. She called me at work hysterical.”
Watson brought a shirt to the school, she explained, and filed a written complaint about the incident; she then took her shaken-up daughter home for the day, and later contacted the school board and several local news stations. “If anyone knows my Ali, they know she has so much spirit,” the post continued. “She has been taught love and acceptance and not hate and bigotry! She is an exceptional young lady with so much courage!”
The banned Miley Cyrus shirt, according to the school. (Photo: KCEN-TV)
The many commenters on her post agree, with one suggesting, “Wear it every damn day… They’re mad because a T-shirt is telling them to do something that they can’t do. Accept people as they are. Not Ali’s problem that they have problems with acceptance.” Another praised Watson, saying, “Amazing!!! Nothing better than a momma fighting and having her baby’s back!”
The controversy is closely reminiscent of another that occurred in 2015 in South Carolina, when Brianna Popour, then 18, was sent home from school for wearing a tongue-in-cheek “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian” T-shirt. Administrators at the Chesnee High School had deemed it to be “offensive and distracting” and in violation of the school’s dress code, while Popour’s mother spoke out in her defense. But the principal relented a week later after receiving a letter from LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal. “I’m so happy that I can wear my T-shirt,” Popour had said in a statement at the time. “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. 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.” The shirt Popour wore was also banned in California recently, causing an uproar and eventually a change of policy at the high school.
On Wednesday, Lambda Legal staff attorney Paul Castillo of the South Central Regional office in Dallas, Tex., told Yahoo Style that Copperas Cove administrators would be wise to take a lesson from Popour’s situation. He noted that cases like this one across the country have consistently sided with students’ rights to express pride in their sexual orientation through T-shirts.
“The Constitution does not permit an administration to censor a student’s right to self-expression, including through the wearing of shirts,” Castillo says. “As far as it being ‘disruptive,’ a lot of times [in cases like these] the administration will throw around that term without looking at the facts of the case. And the retort that it’s disruptive without actual disruption makes it likely the school is violating the constitutional rights of students.” Further, he says, the school comparing Chaney’s shirt with the twerking shirt implies that there’s something wrong with the word “gay,” and that it is “inherently sexual,” which it is not.
“Like many students, [Ali] is incredibly brave to step forward and affirm herself,” he says of the 13-year-old, “and to stand up for her right to express herself.”