Leslie Robinson

The Fabric of Our Lives

Filed By Leslie Robinson | March 29, 2011 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: ACLU, Dawn Henderson, Fred Karger, Kate Cohn, t-shirts

We Americans like to express ourselves with our chests.

gay-t-shirt.pngI'm not speaking of Jane Russell, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'm talking about our proclivity for wearing T-shirts with slogans on them. Americans have been human billboards for decades.

The slogans on T-shirts celebrate, advocate, advertise, unify, decry and polarize. Americans have lots to say - on shirts made in Honduras.

So it makes sense that one part of the gay story in this country is being played out in cotton/polyester blends. Over the past years high school students and younger, kids on both sides of the gay issue, have been wearing their hearts on their sleeves. And getting sent home for it.

The latest shirt-skirmish is still unfolding at a middle school in DeSoto Parish in Louisiana. Student Dawn Henderson wore a shirt reading "Some Kids are Gay. That's OK." Principal Keith Simmons ordered her to change her shirt or go home.

It occurs to me that any kid aiming to get out of a test at school doesn't need to fake the flu - just don a controversial T-shirt and in minutes you'll be back home watching Judge Judy.

According to the ACLU of Louisiana, DeSoto school officials claimed the shirt was "distracting." The ACLU sent Simmons a letter arguing that Henderson has a First Amendment right to express her opinion across her chest, as long as the school allows clothing with slogans.

If the school decides to forbid clothing with slogans, it might be hearing from Nike.

In another T-shirt to-do, which actually began back in 2006, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a month ago that students at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., could wear T-shirts saying "Be Happy, Not Gay."

The court maintained a "school that permits advocacy of the rights of homosexual students cannot be allowed to stifle criticism of homosexuality."

May the judges' T-shirts ride up with wear.

On Nov. 2 last year, Election Day, senior Kate Cohn made a pro-gay statement at Falcon High School in Peyton, Colo., by wearing a shirt reading "Marriage is so gay." She said Principal Mark Carara told her the shirt was offensive and violated the dress code forbidding clothing potentially disruptive to the academic environment.

I'm guessing that means fishnets are out. At least for guys.

Cohn's mom said Carara later likened the T-shirt to apparel promoting alcohol or drug use.

That increasingly well-known arbiter of fashion, the ACLU, sent a letter to school administrators demanding Cohn and others be allowed to wear the shirt, and the two-week ban was lifted.

Perfect. Two weeks gave her enough time to wash her shirt and make it all pretty for its re-debut.

I can say with certainty that T-shirt tizzies haven't been limited to the younger set or the recent past. Back in the mid-'90s I covered a protest by adults in Hampton Beach, N.H., outside a T-shirt store that peddled a couple of anti-gay shirts. One read "Silly faggot, dicks are for chicks," and the other said "AIDS Kills Fags" or something of that ilk.

What I remember best is a teenager pointedly buying one of those shirts during the protest, then sheepishly returning it afterwards because he needed the money to get home.

The other day I spotted a different T-shirt twist to the American LGBT story. Openly gay veteran political consultant Fred Karger, in Washington, D.C., to file for the Republican presidential nomination, met with the Republican National Committee chairman.

Karger - completely unknown to the public and, to repeat, openly gay - told Roll Call, "We had a great meeting. I gave him one of my T-shirts."

I'd like to know what slogan is on that shirt. Maybe "Karger 2012: No, Really."

img fckh8.com

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Unfortunately, this T-shirt censoring has been going on for years. When I was in high school I had the same thing happen to me where a group of us all had shirt that the administrators did not like and determined we could not wear to school. They even went so far as to request that we give the shirts to them so they could destroy them. We probably could have gone to the ACLU and had their decision overturned but instead we took duck tape covered the parts the administrators did not like and wrote censored. They threw a fit but decided there was nothing they could do about it.

I still make a point of wearing that shirt whenever I am going to see one of those administrators just to piss them off 9 years later.

I got sent home from high school once for wearing a Lesbian Avengers tee-shirt. I appreciated the break, since normally we weren't allowed off-campus during the day.

Madcity Renee | March 29, 2011 1:54 PM

I got fired from Rocky Rocco's in 1982 for wearing a t-shirt that said "joke'em if you can't take a fuck!"

Apparently they had no sense of humor.
Everybody else I knew thought that it was bad ass!!

Now, it just makes me smile.
I'm still a smart ass, but not a bad ass.

I recall back when I was in high school and we did the Day of Silence, this one student who always liked to be a provocateur (tediously so) decided to print and distribute "It's Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve" shirts to some of his friends and wear them on the same day.

The GSA had organized Day of Silence and we all thought he was an asshole for doing that. I heard later that he and the few of his friends (and a friend of mine--I dunno exploring his political beliefs) who wore the shirts ended up largely covering them with their jackets all day, rather sheepishly.

Self censorship? Thank God.

While many of these cases come from a bigoted heart, there is still the dress code to consider and many of these shirts go outside of them. I interviewed a kid from Indiana who was sent home because of his shirt last year. It had a pro-gay message but was also a tank top. The school doesn't allow tank tops. End of story. Kid lost. Pro-gay or not.

Like this one that everyone is talking about saying "fckh8" on it. I don't think administrators are so stupid they don't know what that means without the vowels.

Maybe they should go the gay geek BSG route and use "frkh8".