Middle-schooler punished for ‘We’re all lesbians’ shirt in West Orange
WEST ORANGE — A mother is pleased with a turnaround by her daughter's school district after the girl wore a T-shirt that reads "We're all lesbians" to her middle school.
Eighth-grader Justice Cillo-Smith received a dress code violation from her West Orange middle school after she wore the shirt on Sept. 25, according to an Oct. 4 post by mother Gwen Wu on her Facebook page. The shirt is a reference to the Broadway show "The Prom."
Wu said a guidance counselor told her that the shirt violated a school rule about clothing that contains "sexual innuendo, inappropriate language, sayings or symbols." When Wu went to the school, the principal said the shirt was a violation of a rule against clothing that can be "dangerous and/or disruptive to the learning environment," and he was trying to protect Justice from being the target of hate, Wu said.
Wu told TAPinto.net Nutley that Justice, who attends Liberty Middle School, identifies as lesbian, and felt "singled out" and discriminated against. A friend of Justice's wore the same shirt, as an "experiment," to Roosevelt Middle School, West Orange's other middle school, with an entirely different outcome, Wu wrote.
"Not only did that 8th grader NOT get a dress code violation but she was commended for wearing it in solidarity while at a LGBTQ presentation from Garden State Equality," Wu wrote.
But after speaking this week at the Board of Education meeting, Wu said, her "heart is full" after members expressed support for Justice, and the superintendent was "apologetic for how she felt targeted with intolerance and he will be reviewing the incident to get back to us at a later date," according to the TAPinto report.
"The Prom," which just closed but continues with a national touring company, is about four Broadway actors who go to Edgewater, Indiana to support a lesbian student who has been banned from bringing her girlfriend to prom.
Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone told New Jersey 101.5 the situation is an example of the need for a "retraining and reiteration of how we need to approach dress code matters" and calls this incident a potential watershed moment for administrators around the state.
He said that many superintendents face an ongoing, revolving conversation about what's appropriate and what's not appropriate and sometimes having to filter out personal views and values.
"Outsides of items of clothing that specifically speak to hate speech or drug and alcohol use, which are fairly cut and dry, it really comes down to simply whether or not this item of clothing is creating a disruption or distraction," he said.
Cascone said as superintendent he strives "to nurture an environment wherein all students and staff feel welcome, safe, comfortable and supported."
"When it comes to light that we have fallen short in our mission, what shall we do as a community? We shall not condemn, we shall not judge, we shall not cast out. I say, as a learning organization, let’s come together through honest and heartfelt dialogue, and let’s teach and grow," Cascone said.
Cascone also said that the different reaction to the same shirt at the Roosevelt Middle School was because the staff went through training about LGBTQ issues. Liberty staff and students are in line for the same training, Cascone said.
Wu has not yet returned messages left on Friday morning.
This post has been updated to reflect comments from Cascone .
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.
More from New Jersey 101.5: