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'Lesbians are cool' T-shirt puts Massachusetts school in national spotlight

T-shirts like the one worn by the anonymous Lynn English High School student are widely available online.
T-shirts like the one worn by the anonymous Lynn English High School student are widely available

A Massachusetts high school has set off a national free speech debate after a student was reprimanded for wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed, "All the Cool Girls Are Lesbians."

The student, who hasn't been publicly identified, complained in a letter to Judith Flanagan Kennedy, chairwoman of the Lynn, Mass., School Committee — and mayor of the town — that in January, she was asked by a vice principal to cover up the T-shirt and never wear it again, the Lynn Daily Item reported.

In the letter, as quoted by the Daily Item, the student said a teacher referred her to a vice principal because of the T-shirt. The vice principal agreed with the teacher that the shirt was inappropriate "because it's political and offensive to some people," the student said she was told.

"Well, frankly I'm the one who feels offended," she wrote in the letter to Kennedy, adding: "The word lesbian is not inappropriate. Saying it is, is calling homosexuality inappropriate."

Kennedy agreed with her.

Kennedy told members of the School Committee at its meeting last week that she had done some legal research, "and I believe she is right."

The school's dress code prohibits clothing that depicts weapons, drugs or alcohol, or anything considered disruptive, but it doesn't specify gender issues, Kennedy said. The school has a Gay/Straight Alliance, demonstrating its tolerance for such expressions, she said.

The debate over such expressions quickly spread beyond Lynn, a city of 90,000 about 20 miles northeast of Boston, much of it on pro-gay-rights sites like SheWired and The Advocate.

"Truth hurts...," one commenter wrote on SheWired's Facebook page, while another said she "would love to get my hands on a tshirt lol."

But Dallas Chambers, a program director at radio station KISS-FM in Amarillo, Texas, took the side of the assistant principal, writing on the station's Web site that "we have a ton of idiots in our world, students need to be paying attention in class! Not being distracted by naive little girls that think it's cool to be a lesbian."

Jeanne Sager, a blogger for CafeMom, also objected, but on different grounds: 

"I'm raising a kid in a pro-gay rights household. That means she's learned that gay kids are just like her. They're equal," she wrote under the headline "Student's 'All Cool Girls Are Lesbians' Shirt Was Way Out of Line."

"What doesn't it mean?" she asked. "That gay kids are 'cooler' than her any more than it means she's cooler than the gay kids."

By M. Alex Johnson of Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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