LIBERTY, MO—A Liberty High School student says that he was simply showing his support for equal rights for all. But a teacher and school official claimed that the shirt, which said "Queer + Straight = Equal" was offensive and forced him to go home.
Now, student Jesse Irey, who says that he is bisexual, and the American Civil Liberties Union are fighting back against what they say is illegal censorship by the school.
"Liberty is supposed to be a 'hate free zone,' that's one of our shirts," said Irey.
But a Liberty High teacher and an assistant principal said that the word "queer" is offensive, and when Irey refused to take off the shirt, he was sent home.
"What people are trying to do is take the word back so it's not an offensive slur," said Irey, who says that he is particularly upset because other students at the school were allowed to wear anti-gay shirts at school after the school's Gay-Straight Alliance wore shirts that read 'Gay-Fine by Me.'
"Kids wore shirts like this that said 'Straight - the only thing fine by me,'" said Irey.
"(School officials) didn't ask those students to turn their shirts inside out," said Kelly Smith, Irey's mother. She says that since her son came out as bisexual, he has been harassed at school by other students and teachers.
"It's ignorance and prejudice and there's no place for that at school," said Smith.
In a statement, the Liberty School District says the word queer is "aligned with hate-drive remarks resulting in hostile physical reactions that are detrimental to a safe learning environment." The statement goes on to say that the district "embraces and promotes acceptance and tolerance."
Doug Bonney of the ACLU says that Irey's shirt doesn't rate as offensive, and he is now demanding that the school stop their censorship.
"Absolutely it's a freedom of speech issue, there's no doubt," said Bonney. "High school students have the right to express themselves on t-shirts."
The shirt came from a conference hosted by EQUAL, or Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders. EQUAL president Wick Thomas says that they are prepared to fight the school's ban of their shirt.
"I hope the administration realizes that in this increasingly hostile climate towards LGBT youth that they need to support their students and be advocates for students, and not send them home because of a dispute over a t-shirt," said Thomas.