EXETER — An Exeter High School freshman and his mother are suing the school district after he was suspended from playing in a football game for allegedly expressing his 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.”

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.

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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