Sent Home From School for “Some Kids R Gay. That’s OK” T-Shirt

A Louisiana middle school student was sent home last week when she refused to remove a t-shirt that had on it a slogan supporting gay people. The principal said that the t-shirt was “distracting.” The ACLU is calling this a breach of First Amendment rights.

While students at North DeSoto Middle School in Stonewall, Louisiana, are normally required to wear a uniform, Dawn Henderson, an eighth grader, had earned the right to come to school in casual attire. According to reports, she also covered the shirt with a zip-up sweatshirt.

This was not enough for her Principal, Keith Simmons, who told her she would have to change the shirt or go home. Henderson was not disciplined following this incident but she does allege that no one had remarked on the t-shirt until Principal Simmons made an issue out of it.  

From the ACLU press release:

Last week, student Dawn Henderson of DeSoto Middle School wore a shirt to school bearing the message “Some Kids are Gay. That’s OK.” In return for her support of the gay community, the school’s principal ordered her to change her shirt or go home, censoring her speech in violation of her legal rights.

The ACLU of Louisiana has sent a letter to the Principal, Keith Simmons, explaining that students have the First Amendment right to express their opinions, including on t-shirt slogans, as long as the school allows clothing with slogans. “Students do not give up their free speech rights at the schoolhouse gate,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman. “To allow students to express one kind of opinion but not another is the very definition of censorship, and it violates the Constitutional rights of students like Dawn Henderson, who may have views different from those of her school Principal.”

DeSoto school officials claimed that the shirt slogan was “distracting,” although no incident of disruption was attributed to it. “Had there been a disruption because of Dawn’s shirt slogan, those causing the trouble are the ones who would properly be subject to discipline,” said Esman. “To punish the speaker for how others react is to blame the victim, and forces people to restrict their speech only to what they think others may want to hear. This is not the way a free society engages in public debate.”

“Schools should encourage discussion of issues of public concern, and especially issues about which there may be conflicting opinions,” Esman continued. “Sending Dawn home for wearing a shirt with the word ‘gay’ on it not only trampled her right to freedom of expression, but also sent a destructive message to all students that there is something wrong with being gay or even saying the word ‘gay.’ A school is the best place to encourage young people to share opinions. It is not the place to violate the legal rights of students whose views might differ from those of school authorities.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the t-shirt, made by the FCKH8.COM campaign, carries the FCKH8 moniker in much smaller writing underneath the pro-gay slogan.

You can see a picture of the t-shirt over at The Advocate’s coverage of this story.

Could this in fact be the source of the school’s concern given that even implied inappropriate language may fall under its justifiable ability to censor?

The school has, as yet, not issued comment, but given that the ACLU release and associated letter to the school specifically cites that Dawn Henderson was told to remove the t-shirt because it was “distracting” and not because of inappropriate or implied inappropriate language, one would conclude not.

While some may say this is a trivial incident, it has been enough for Dawn Henderson’s mother, Emily Henderson, to tell KTBS news that she will probably pull her daughter from the school.



Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to McDowell-Craig.

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Gale Johansen
Gale Johansen2 years ago

Once again fearful, ignorant adults try to exercise control because they don't approve of something. Therefore whatever it is of which they disapprove is causing a problem and must be forbidden, how transparent and pathetic they are and how righteous are those that choose to stand up against such misuse of power.

Jane H.
Jane H.2 years ago

Hooray for this brave girl and the ALCU!

Lisa Sears
Lisa Sears2 years ago

I think that bigots and bullies are just making themselves look even more ignorant when they exhibit these attitudes... Your opinion is wrong, my opinion is right, always right, even when I'm not sure which opinion I have. You disagree with me, you're wrong!

Even sillier when they prove that NIMBY is alive and well. You know, Not In MY Back Yard. Why are so many people so hypocritical? They see nothing wrong when you're building something somewhere, as long as they don't have to look at it, they aren't irritated or inconvenienced.

Rallies and protests and signs and tee-shirts should not be allowed if they promote something that irritates ME. If tee-shirts encourage something I DO believe in, oh okay, they're Free Speech and should be allowed. Jeez!

Janet K.
Janet K.4 years ago

I agree. Hurray for the ACLU! One good thing about this turn of events is that the topic is most likely being given more discussion at that school than it would have been had the principal ignored the tshirt. I truly don't understand all this homophobia. I raised my son in West Hollywood where he had several gay "substitute" dads and he turned out to be a tolerant, compassionate, successful, straight adult who still loves his gay dads. What's wrong with peace, love and understanding?

Lani S.
Lani S.4 years ago

I think they should have patted her on the back for standing up for kids that need more support in the world! My children's school has a school dress code that doesn't allow any writing or advertising on clothing. I like it because it keeps the children focused on the learning- and not being advertised to by some coca cola or Barbie shirt. That being said, if the school allows writing on shirts, this girl was using her rights to make a positive statement! Kudos to her!

Janine F.
Janine F.4 years ago

thanks for the article

Ashley N.
Ashley N.4 years ago

Wow, this is beyond ridiculous. Are they just going to send the gay students home now?

Bart V.
Bart V.4 years ago

There is nothing on the T shirt in question that is negative or encourages hatred or violence against a group or individual. Thus to make an analogy to a statement saying that women are inferior, etc.; is complete nonsense.

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert4 years ago

I support Dawn Henderson's action 100% and I have signed the petition related to this article. However, I have to question what my stance would be if a child were sent home for wearing, say, a pro-death penalty T-shirt or one advocating any form of discrimination or denigration - the Tilly's T-shirt featured elsewhere on Care2 is a case in point. Hmm. Difficult for educators to make clear-cut decisions about what's "right" and what's "wrong". I can only put my grain of sand in the pile that supports love, compassion, tolerance, acceptance and respect.
Thank you, Steve, for raising this discussion

Lin Moy
Lin M4 years ago

A silly thing to fuss over.