Brianna Popour, a South Carolina teen, is standing up for herself after a high school administrator sent her home for wearing a shirt that says, “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian.” (Photo: Facebook)
A South Carolina teenager was sent home from school recently after she refused to change her T-shirt — which bore the tongue-in-cheek phrase “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian,” and was deemed “offensive and distracting” and in violation of the school’s dress code.
“I was told to change my shirt or go home, so I went home because I wasn’t going to allow him to tell me I can’t wear a shirt that shows who I am,” Brianna Popour, 18, tells Yahoo Parenting through a Facebook message, apparently referring to either the principal or assistant principal of Chesnee High School in Chesnee.
Popour, who says she came out as a lesbian “two or three years ago,” was able to return to school the next day, to what she says has been much support, except from the administrator who disciplined her. “He hasn’t apologized. He won’t even look at me,” she says, adding, “Today I wore a shirt that says, ‘Keep Calm and Kiss Girls.’”
The high school did not return a call requesting comment from Yahoo Parenting, but issued a statement to local news station WSPA that said the T-shirt was “offensive and distracting.” The school’s dress code notes, “Clothing and/or hair should not be so extreme or inappropriate to the school setting as to disrupt the educational process. Therefore, clothing deemed distracting, revealing, overly suggestive or otherwise disruptive will not be permitted.” It specifically bans dangerous accessories, such as fishhooks and heavy chains, as well as gang-related clothing and attire that is “immodest, obscene, profane, lewd, vulgar, indecent or offensive,” as well as anything that references “alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs or paraphernalia.”
A shirt like the one that got Brianna into trouble at school. (Photo: Etsy)
Though the code does not prohibit displays of sexual orientation, Popour told WSPA she was told, “Well, not everything is in the handbook” when she pointed this out.
Brianna’s mother, Barbara Popour, spoke out in support of her daughter and against the administrator who send Brianna home. “He does not like people in his school wearing anything that says anything about lesbians, gays, or bisexuals,” she told WSPA, also not naming the school official.
“What a brave young woman in a very homophobic situation,” Dr. Michael LaSala, a Rutgers University professor of social work and a psychotherapist who specializes in LGBT youth and families, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Shame on the school, as this also creates an atmosphere and environment of non-acceptance and even danger for young people who are LGBT. That act [of sending Brianna home] reverberates throughout the school and lets others know the school is not a safe place.” He notes the irony in the shirt’s message and the situation, adding, “Believe me, nobody knows that a lot of kids are gay or lesbian, but here, somebody had the courage to come out and say it.”
As far as the shirt possibly being too distracting — something that is indeed banned by the school’s dress code — LaSala says, “If you go to a school where this is considered distracting, then the environment is not sufficiently supportive to LGBT kids.”
Jenny Betz, director of education and youth programs for the national GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), tells Yahoo Parenting, “We all want to be able to be our full selves everywhere, and for young people it’s no different. To come back to school and have that shut down is really heartbreaking.” Betz calls Brianna “super-brave,” adding, “She is clearly confident and honest about who she is, and comes to school to be engaged and become a leader — and instead of being supported, she is being shut down and punished for it.”
One expert even questions the legality of the school’s actions. “A ‘Nobody knows I’m a lesbian’ T-shirt is just as constitutionally protected as, say, black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, or T-shirts or insignia expressing the owner’s Christianity or Judaism. Government-run K-12 schools can’t suppress speech just because the administrators find it offensive,” writes Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law at UCLA School of Law, in the Washington Post. He says that, in some extreme cases, a school may justify banning certain messages by citing risk of a so-called “heckler’s veto,” or fear of a dangerous response. “But even if a heckler’s veto is allowed, the school has to have real evidence that there is indeed likely to be such a violent response, rather than just a concern that some people might be “distract[ed]” by it,” Volokh writes.
Finally, there’s this: “I’m proud of who I am and I’m not going to hide it,” Brianna tells Yahoo Parenting. “If my family accepts it, why should I be ashamed to show everyone else that I’m a lesbian?”