The fabric of our lives

T-shirts may be the front line in the battle for LGBT civil rights, or at least the battle’s billboards

LESLIE ROBINSON  |  General Gayety

We Americans like to express ourselves with our chests. I’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.”

Leslie Robinson still has a pro-ERA T-shirt that her mother gave her. E-mail Leslie at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and check out her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

—  John Wright

Corpus Christi school district says it will ban all clubs rather than allowing Gay Straight Alliance

Nikki Peet

The other day, we told you how Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi is refusing to allow 17-year-old student Nikki Peet (right) to start a chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance. The school’s decision not only violates federal law, but it also signals that officials care nothing about the safety of LGBTQ students.

The federal Equal Access Act, originally designed to protect student Bible study groups, dictates that if a school allows one non-curricular club to meet on campus, it must allow any non-curricular club to meet on campus. In other words, if a school allows a chess club, it must also allow a Gay Straight Alliance.

In this case, Flour Bluff High School has been allowing the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to meet on campus. But rather than simply allowing the GSA, the district has apparently decided to kick the Fellowship of Christian Athletes off campus, and bar all other other non-curricular clubs. Wow.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports:

Superintendent Julie Carbajal said she has asked the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to meet off campus while the district studies the legality of allowing the club while disallowing a club supporting homosexual students. She said there is no chance the district will approve the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance, but she will make sure all other school clubs are following the district’s policy.

“We need to be fair and equitable to all,” she said.

In disallowing the Gay-Straight Alliance, the district said it didn’t have to follow a federal law mandating schools offer equal opportunities for all students to organize. The district approved a policy in 2005 that did not allow student clubs not tied to curriculum to meet on campus.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which has been meeting on campus, may not be adhering to that policy, Carbajal said. She said the district is consulting with its attorneys on the matter.

“We feel like we need to follow the policy in place,” she said. “If we’ve made any wrong judgments then we have to fix that because we are not looking at changing our policy.”

Students from the GSA at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi were tentatively planning to protest Flour Bluff’s refusal to allow the GSA on Monday. However, it’s unclear whether that protest will go forward now that the district says it plans to ban all non-curricular clubs.

In the meantime, Change.org has launched a petition calling on the school to allow the GSA. Sign it by going here. If you’d like to contact school officials directly, the info is here.

—  John Wright