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The Story of a Red Short-Sleeved T-Shirt

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June 18, 2008

I’m lucky that I’d never been judged to my face about being a lesbian before last year. But the first time it did happen to me, it really caught me off-guard.

My story begins with a red short-sleeved T-shirt. I was told to cover my T-shirt over a symbol on the front that only the teacher thought was offensive. She called it a classroom distraction, but no one in the class was distracted or offended by it at all. The front of this red T-shirt happened to be an overlapping of two scientific female gender symbols. The teacher thought it was simply uncalled for and sent me to the administration office over it. The assistant principal, straight off the bat, sided with the teacher. They pulled out the student code of conduct and tried to say that my shirt was showing improper material and it was against the dress code. I decided to give in and to cover my shirt with my jacket so I could just go back to class. While in class, trying to collect my tears, all of my fellow students asked if I was okay and wondered what happened. I told them that they threatened to suspend me if I didn’t cover my shirt. Having someone with authority, other then my parents, order me around about what to wear was very hard to handle for me.

That afternoon, I arrived home and on my kitchen counter was a print out of a web page and a note from my father saying to call the number on the print out about what happened at school. I read over the print out about the ACLU and how they helped people and teens in cases like mine. After making the phone call and talking to the amazing Chris Hampton, she explained that the teacher and administrator had both been in the wrong by telling me to cover my shirt. My rights had been violated and we decided to do something about it. Chris and I discussed the process of handling this type of situation since she had dealt with it before. After we talked I decided I wanted to go public with my story to help other students learn about their free speech rights, so we also talked about the press and how we were going to try to get people to understand why what the school did was wrong, and then we talked with my parents and got their okay to go forward. After getting off the phone that evening, I didn’t expect any of what happened next. The ACLU sent a letter to the school demanding an apology and a press release had been sent to the local newspaper along with every LGBT website and magazine that Chris could possibly get her hands on. I ended up being all over Google within 24 hours. Chris took all the calls to schedule interviews so I could talk about my T-shirt. I met with a man from my local TV station at the school for a video interview to capture my story. Time went by and I had not heard anything from the school. Finally, the newspaper had contacted the head principal asking what she thought about it. She told the paper that she apologized for the inconvenience and she’d make sure it wouldn’t happen again. It would have been nice if someone had apologized to my face, but I no longer had to worry about being suspended over a T-shirt.

The entire experience was life changing. It showed me to not be scared to fight for my beliefs and to stand up for myself when my rights are violated. I can honestly say I am proud of what I did with the help of the ACLU and Chris Hampton as my guide. Now a graduate as of June 11, I hope I made an impact on other LGBT people throughout the world who managed to hear my story. And I dearly appreciate those who supported me through it all. Thank you.

Bethany Laccone just graduated from high school on June 11. You can read more about her case here. If you’re a student who thinks your school may have violated your rights, please check out “What’s Your Problem?”, a guide for figuring out whether your school is illegally discriminating against you, and contact us if you have any questions or need assistance.

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