Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Student told to cover up Lesbian T-shirt"

from Associated Press - By Dionne Walker

RICHMOND, Va. (AP)-- A lesbian high school student says she was asked by a teacher to cover up a lesbian-themed T-shirt or face suspension, and now a civil liberties group has taken up her cause.

Bethany Laccone, 17, said she was asked to cloak a logo of two interlocked female symbols while attending a hotel management class this month at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth. She's a senior at nearby Woodrow Wilson High School, where she has not faced a similar ultimatum.

In a letter sent Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia asked Norcom administrators to remove any mention of the incident from Laccone's records and agree not to similarly censor other students.

ACLU leaders want administrators to clarify that students can express political views. The school's dress code prohibits "bawdy, salacious or sexually suggestive messages."

The ACLU gave the school until Jan. 11 to respond or face further action.

"What's happening to Bethany Laccone is a clear-cut case of unconstitutional censorship," said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter.

School officials did not respond to repeated messages left by The Associated Press. However, Joseph L. Wiggins, the district superintendent's executive assistant, told The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk that while he didn't know what Laccone had been told, "The concern could be that we are training students to go out into the business world."

After Laccone's teacher asked her to cover the shirt, she said she zipped up her jacket. One week later, she again wore the bright red shirt, which she said is her favorite.

Laccone said her teacher again asked her to cover her shirt or go to the assistant principal's office. Once there, Laccone said she was given a choice.

"I could either zip up my jacket, turn my shirt inside out, or get suspended," said Laccone, who covered the shirt, but told her parents what had happened.

According to the ACLU, administrators later told Laccone's father the shirt had upset a conservative instructor and interfered with her ability to teach.

In Thursday's letter, they argue the T-shirt "intended to convey a particularized, political message that lesbian identity should be celebrated and is a source of pride."

Laccone said she just wants to wear her shirt.

"I don't feel like I should have to hide my sexuality," she said.

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