On April 21, 2004, an annual Day of Silence at Poway High School in southern California, student Chase Harper wore a t-shirt with tape across the front that said “Homosexuality is Shameful” and referenced Romans 1:27. Harper was not confronted or punished for this shirt. The following day he wore a similar shirt that added “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned.” On that day, his teacher David LeMaster told him he was in violation of school dress code and he was eventually suspended after he refused to change his shirt.
I suppose from an adult perspective I understand why schools have dress codes – teenagers are easily distracted and those are difficult years to get through anyway, especially if you’re wearing the wrong t-shirt. When I was in high school I thought dress codes were just irritating. Growing up in a southern beach community where we lived in bathing suits and flip-flops 365 days a year, my high school had a pretty strict dress code to reign us in. But our society constantly underestimates teenagers – they’re so much more responsible and mature then we give them credit for and young adults are more than capable of choosing their own clothing – offensive or not.
I do think that a high school should be a market place for verbal ideas. Surely there was a verbal outlet for his ideas and opposing views. And should kids be allowed to wear anything they want to school? Yeah, probably. Are they? No. So ideas should be shared freely, and unless you’re in the drama club’s costume department, leave out the clothing discussion, suck it up for four years and save your offensive clothing for college where everyone will be too drunk to notice your t-shirt’s anti-gay slurs.
I don’t think the kid should have been expelled or suspended. No sense in punishing the brat just because he cherry picks verses from the Christian bible to take too literally. I think he has the right to free speech, but his school has clearly curbed the free clothing. I also think it takes a lot more nerve to speak your mind than to wear a shirt. Putting on clothes is easy. Telling people what they might disagree with is hard. What I don’t understand is that he wore two separate t-shirts – the first time they left him alone and he got to wear his opinion on the matter. What was the need for the second shirt? Why did he feel the need to wear another one?
As a student I would have told him how hateful and judgemental his shirt was. Well, “college me” would do that. “High school me” would probably have shoved his locker full of gay magazines. I’m kidding. I’d still do that. If I were his teacher and the shirt was causing so much controversy I couldn’t get the class to concentrate, I probably would have done the same thing as LeMaster. But if I were really in charge of his punishment, I would have sentenced Harper to a makeover from whatever gay advocacy club the high school has (or the drama department’s wardrobe crew because you know it’s the same) for a little high school Queer Eye for the Straight Guy action and a one year membership to PFLAG.