An Exeter, NH High School freshman is suing the school district after he was suspended from playing in a football game for allegedly expressing his (factual reality) view there are “only two genders.”
The student’s suit was filed in Rockingham Superior Court Thursday, Nov. 4, through his attorney, Ian Huyett of Cornerstone Action, a nonprofit Christian advocacy organization.
The lawsuit alleges the student received a one-game suspension in September in violation of his constitutional right to free speech and the New Hampshire Bill of Rights because he expressed what the suit called his Catholic belief there are “only two genders,” male and female.
Cornerstone is seeking nominal damages against SAU 16 and EHS Assistant Principal Marcy Dovholuk. The lawsuit also aims to prohibit the school district from enforcing its policy pertaining to gender-nonconforming students.
The school district policy, Cornerstone claims, penalizes students who, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to address non-binary students with their chosen pronouns to describe their gender identity.
“(The student) does not deny that he violated the Gender Nonconforming Students policy,” the lawsuit states. “He in fact denied, and will continue to deny, that any person can belong to a gender other than that of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ … (The student) will never refer to any individual person using plural pronouns such as ‘they,’ using contrived pronouns such as ‘ze,’ or with any similar terminology that reflects values which (the student) does not share.”
Under the high school’s policy, a “student has the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to the student’s gender identity.” It also contains a provision that states, “the intentional or persistent refusal to respect a student’s gender identity … is a violation of this policy.”
How It Began
According to the lawsuit, a teacher in the student’s Spanish class asked students on Sept. 9 to introduce themselves. One student told the class they consider themselves non-binary and prefer to be addressed by “they” as a singular pronoun.
It states the student who was suspended for one football game and the self-identifying non-binary student did not have a direct interaction that day, nor since.
After school, the lawsuit states, the student filing the lawsuit spoke with two friends on the bus over the perceived difficulty of using third-person pronouns to refer to themselves in Spanish.
For instance, the third-person pronoun to refer to a group of men is “ellos” but when referring to a group of women it becomes “ellas.”
The lawsuit claims a female student overheard that conversation and responded by saying, “There’s more than two genders.” To which, the student now suing the school allegedly responded by saying, “No there isn’t: there’s only two genders.”
The student suing the school got off the bus at his friend’s house and later received a text from the student who confronted him on his views regarding gender.
“(The student) pressed (the student now suing the school) on the topic of gender, demanding, ‘Give me one valid reason why there’s only two genders,’” the lawsuit states. “The two then had a contentious exchange of texts on the issue.”
The lawsuit states it was those texts, which were given to the administration, that resulted in (the student now suing the school’s) suspension for reportedly both failing to respect another student’s gender pronouns and for “inappropriate language” used in his texts, such as “bozo” and “stfu,” an acronym for, “shut the (expletive) up.”
The student now suing the school, according to the suit, was pulled out of class by Dovholuk and Bill Ball, athletic director and varsity football coach.
“Dovholuk and Ball stated that the texts showed that (the student now suing the school) was ‘not respecting pronouns’ and that he needed to ‘respect how people identify,’” the lawsuit alleges.
Ball then allegedly informed him he was suspended from playing football for a week, the suit states. He later reduced that to one game after speaking with the student’s mother, who said her son had done nothing wrong.
The lawsuit claims, punishing the student under the school’s policy for gender nonconforming students is a violation of his First Amendment rights and a violation of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights. Cornerstone maintains EHS administrators did not have the authority to punish him because, as the lawsuit alleges, the content of his text messages in an off-campus conversation initiated by another student were the basis of his athletic suspension,
“These prohibitions restrict the expression of a particular opinion and are not supported by any material or substantial disruption to school operations,” the lawsuit states. “Regardless of what defendants may think about these words, (the student now suing the school) did not use profane or insulting language towards any person while in the school building, on a school bus, during school activities, or on school property in any of the events leading up to his athletic suspension and this case.”
SAU 16 Superintendent David Ryan said he was made aware of the Cornerstone lawsuit when comment.
“We are in the process of reviewing this complaint with legal counsel and will be able to share a statement once we have completed that review,” Ryan said.