Legal action threatened if ‘two genders’ shirt is prohibited

May 4, 2023

MIDDLEBORO — The case of a Middleboro seventh grader who was asked to remove his shirt with the words “There Are Only Two Genders,’’ may end up in court.

Liam Morrison, 12, a student at Nichols Middle School, has argued that he has a right to express an opinion in a manner he has described as “nothing harmful or threatening’’ but “just a statement I believe to be a fact.’’

He wore another shirt on Friday, May 5 that read “There are only (censored) genders’’ and was asked to remove that as well, according to Samuel Whiting, an attorney representing Liam, his father and stepmother.

Whiting said he is “preparing to move forward with legal action against the school,’’ saying that the school is “doubling down on its violation of Liam’s free speech rights.’’

The school district countered that Massachusetts law prohibits messages such as this that “may be reasonably considered intimidating, hostile, offensive or other unwelcome.’’

The situation, which has drawn international attention, led to a war of words between Whiting, a lawyer for the American Family Institute, and the school district’s legal representative, Kay Hodge of the legal firm Stoneman, Chandler & Miller of Boston. 

Preventing him from wearing the shirt represents a “violation of his constitutional rights,’’ according to the letter signed by Whiting, who works with the American Family Institute. The organization  describes itself as “dedicated to strengthening the family and affirming the Judeo-Christian values upon which it is based.’’

Hodge’s response states that the school will continue to prohibit “the wearing of a T-shirt by Liam Morrison or anyone else’’ that is “likely to be considered discriminatory, harassing and/or bullying to others, including those who are gender nonconforming by suggesting that their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression does not exist or is invalid.’’

Liam wore the “two genders’’ shirt March 21 and discussed the situation at the April 27 School Committee meeting.

He had asked his parents to buy him this shirt “because he opposes the idea that there are many (even infinite) genders, which he sees as radical and untrue,’’ Whiting wrote. “He wore the shirt because he wanted to make a statement based on his deeply-held personal and political beliefs regarding the unchangeable nature of gender as a binary of male and female.’’

Morrison told School Committee members at their April 27 meeting that the message contained “nothing harmful or threatening’’ but “just a statement I believe to be a fact.’’

“Are their feelings more important than my rights?’’ he asked. 

The morning of the meeting when Liam spoke, protestors stood outside with signs reportedly reading “There are only two genders’’ and “Keep woke politics out of our schools.’’ 

The next day, signs were held in support of transgender students.

The School Committee has not discussed the issue publicly. Chair Rich Young said the district has been repeatedly reminded that Massachusetts schools have deemed transgender students as a “protected class. The school is doing what it is supposed to be doing to protect those children.’’

He said he would not comment on the particulars of the case to protect the rights of the student involved.

Committee member Allin Frawley declined comment, citing potential litigation. No other School Committee immediately responded to a request for comment. 

Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Lyons did not directly address the shirt incident at the April 27 meeting, but criticized the protests that took place earlier in the day. 

“The dividing line for me as this district’s leader is when all students are not protected, when all students are not accepted for who they are and are told, either directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong here in Middleboro.’’

Lyons refused further comment on the issue May 4. She said she may make a statement in the future.