Parent sues NYC school for barring daughter’s lesbian T-shirt

Saturday, June 21, 2003

NEW YORK — The mother of a middle school pupil who was suspended for wearing a “Barbie is a Lesbian” T-shirt to class sued the city on June 19, saying her daughter was humiliated and harassed by schoolmates and staff because she is openly lesbian.

Kathleen Hodges accuses the administrators of failing to protect her daughter, Natalie Young, 14, at Middle School 210 in Ozone Park, Queens, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The lawsuit, which names the principal, several teachers and the city Department of Education as defendants, asks the court to declare that school officials violated Natalie’s free-speech rights, Reuters reported.

“Schools cannot legally engage in this type of selective, content-based suppression of speech,” attorney Dan Perez told Reuters. “If she had worn a ‘Barbie Supports the Troops in the War in Iraq’ T-shirt, she would have been called a patriot.”

The lawsuit also seeks unspecified damages and a court order barring the school from suspending Young for wearing the T-shirt and forcing the school to establish policies to protect gay pupils.

City lawyers had not seen the suit and could not comment, said Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city law office.

According to the suit, Natalie was 13 years old when a teacher laughed at her and called her T-shirt inappropriate in front of other pupils, before summoning the principal. The lawsuit says the principal suspended Natalie for the day and threatened to send her home if she wore the shirt again, Reuters reported.

The lawsuit alleges that the incident was one of a series of moments when she was discriminated against by school staff and schoolmates.

The teenager said June 19 that everybody should be treated equally.

“I think that I was treated differently because of my sexual orientation,” she said at a news conference.

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