Appeals Court Upholds School That Prohibited Student From Wearing Shirt Saying There are Two Genders


A federal appeals court has ruled against a student who sued a Massachusetts public middle school for prohibiting him from wearing a T-shirt that read, “There are only two genders.”

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Boston, issued the ruling on Sunday upholding the school’s decision to bar him from wearing the shirt, claiming that it violated its code of conduct related to statements targeting a particular group of people.

Liam Morrison wore the shirt as a response to the pro-LGBTQ material displayed on the school’s premises. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the group representing the student indicated they intended to continue fighting the policy.

The case is one of a growing number of lawsuits by conservative litigants challenging school policies aimed at protecting LGBT students from harassment and respecting their preferred pronouns and gender identities.

Morrison’s lawyers said the boy, 12 years old at the time, wore the shirt in seventh grade to express his political disagreement with the school’s support for views that biology alone does not determine gender. His attorneys said the school expressed these views through pro-LGBT posters and Pride Month celebrations.

Educators required Morrison in April 2023 to either remove the shirt or leave for the day, which he did. The same thing happened about a month later when he wore a shirt saying “There are [censored] genders” after his case generated media coverage and protests.

His attorneys at the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom argued that officials violated his rights under the Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects against government interference with speech, by deeming the shirts a violation of a hate speech provision of the school’s dress code.

In its ruling, the court emphasized the legal discretion educational institutions have in determining what types of clothing are appropriate to maintaining a conducive learning environment. “The question here is not whether the t-shirts should have been barred. The question is who should decide whether to bar them – educators or federal judges,” the ruling read.

The court argued that schools “are entitled to exercise discretion in determining when student speech crosses the line between hurt feelings and substantial disruption of the educational mission.”

The court also cited the potential impact of Morrison’s shirt on transgender and gender non-conforming students. It noted that the message that “There are only two genders may communicate that only two gender identities – male and female – are valid, and any others are invalid or nonexistent” and that the court “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.”

Lastly, the court agreed with the school’s contention that Morrison’s shirt would disrupt the learning environment.

The record supports as reasonable an assessment that the message in this school context would so negatively affect the psychology of young students with the demeaned gender identities that it would “poison the educational atmosphere” and so result in declines in those students’ academic performance and increases in their absences from school.

Morrison’s lawyers stated they would likely pursue another appeal. It could possibly go as high as the Supreme Court. “Students don’t lose their free speech rights the moment they walk into a school building,” said David Cortman, one of the student’s attorneys.

The problem with the school’s approach to this issue is that they did not bar Morrison from wearing the shirt because it does not allow any political speech. It seems clear that a student wearing a shirt claiming there are more than two genders would not have faced this treatment.

Instead, the school claimed Morrison was targeting LGBTQ students with his statement. However, when it comes to issues pertaining to sexuality and gender identity, it is not strictly limited to whether a statement targets a supposedly marginalized group; it is clearly a political matter that has become a hot-button issue in American political discourse.

The fact that a school can enforce gender ideology in the classroom while preventing students from expressing dissenting viewpoints is troubling – and yet another reason to take your kids out of government-run educational institutions. Indeed, Morrison, like many others, could argue that the push to erase gender leads to situations in which biological males can invade women’s spaces with impunity. It is not as if this hasn’t already happened on numerous occasions.

If this case does make it to the Supreme Court, it could have significant ramifications for the viewpoints students are allowed to express on campus.