Suspended for a T-Shirt

The junior high and high school years are a time when kids are figuring out who they are and who they will become.  It’s important that we support them in that endeavor and make sure they know they are loved and accepted no matter what path they choose for themselves.  It’s also important that their school — teachers, administrators, and fellow students — take an active role in that support.  That’s why it’s especially heinous when a school does something like what happened in the Fort Smith School District in Arkansas.

Fifteen-year-old Sommer Collins received a three-day suspension from Ramsey Junior High because of a t-shirt she wore.  And what was the terrible, awful, vulgar message printed on said t-shirt?  The shirt declared that Sommer was “proud to be lesbian” and asked that others “support homosexual love.”  And what is so terrible about that?

According to Sommer’s mother, a teacher told her that “the word homosexual depicts sexual acts and that it was disrupting education.”  Sommer wore the t-shirt after a teacher asked her to remove a rainbow-colored bracelet because the teacher believed it supported an immoral cause.  Clearly, the teacher is homophobic, but should she be allowed to create an anti-LGBT atmosphere in her classroom?

What if she didn’t like country music and a student came to school wearing a Taylor Swift shirt?  What about a teacher who prefers Ford automobiles and a student who likes Chevys?  Cat- and Dog-lovers?  Where would it end?  The fact of the matter is that the teachers should keep their personal opinions to themselves and as long as a student’s clothing is not overly revealing and does not hate speech, the kids should be allowed to wear what they like.

In this particular case, however, the issue is not just a simple difference in musical tastes.  The issue is that we have a young teenager who is being bullying and demeaned by a teacher because of her sexual orientation.  That Sommer is comfortable enough with who she is that she could wear the shirt in the first place shows that’s she’s doing well and, hopefully, will not be overly traumatized by the incident — but it still should never have happened.

It is treatment like this that has led to the rash of recent suicides of young people and for an educator to contribute to that atmosphere of fear and bullying in unconscionable.  If you want to help make a difference, you can send a message to the Fort Smith School District (via Change.Org) letting them know that this is unacceptable.

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