The girls were a part of the 4-H equestrian team competition in August called the Groom Squad. During the event, teams were awarded extra points if they showed up in matching shirts or outfits.
Once their shirts were discovered, a representative of the Pierce County Extension 4-H, Brian Brandt, spoke with the girls about it without their parents present.
Brandt alleged that the shirts were offensive to "marginalized" communities and violated “discrimination and harassment” laws. He also said that someone using different pronouns might feel "abnormal" reading their shirts.
The Post Millennial obtained a statement by one of the girls involved to Washington State University (WSU), which is host to 4-H in the state.
The young girl, Sydney Smith, wrote, "My dad saw what was happening and came over to be part of the conversation and to make sure I was okay. I barely know Brian Brandt and he made me feel very uncomfortable when he wanted to talk to me without my parents being there...and I know my friends felt this way too."
According to Smith, another parent, who was not involved with the situation, came over during the conversation as well and yelled at her. That mother, Smith said, told her she had "no business wearing that shirt" and that she needed to take it off.
"I was scared and felt harassed and discriminated against by both Brian Brandt and the other parent," she said in the letter. "I felt very unsafe with them and still do. For the rest of the fair, I made sure I was never alone and had one of my friends or parents with me or close by."
Brandt's assertion that the shirts violated “discrimination and harassment” laws was questioned.
Reportedly, Brandt also approached Smith's mother, who is also a parent volunteer, Donna Person Smith, to tell her she needed to take down a social media post that showcased the girls' t-shirts.
Person Smith appeared on local radio's The Ari Hoffman Show to discuss the incident. "It was not a blanket rule that there are no 'words' or 'pronouns' on shirts," she said, "just that he gets to decide which 'words' or 'pronouns' are allowed.
This is not only unfair, it is a violation of my daughter's right to free speech and free expression. Brian Brandt specifically targeted these girls because of his personal interpretation and opinion about the shirts -- not based on any actual rule violation."
"When I asked Brian what rule the shirt violated, he was unable to provide one," Person Smith said. "He simply stated there are federal, state, and local laws against harassment and discrimination. I told him I was relieved to hear this and wanted to know what he and 4-H were going to do about the harassment and discrimination towards my daughter for how she chose to express herself. He did not respond."
Another parent, Audra Doll, also spoke with Hoffman and said she feared her daughter now has a target on her back due to Brandt's actions.
“My biggest concern," Doll said, "which I told him today, is he put a target on our 15-year-old daughters’ backs by writing a statement saying that these girls by 'choosing to wear these T-shirts at a public event created a less safe, less welcoming and, for some, a seriously harmful environment for other youths and adults.’
“Brian responded to that public complaint with the full knowledge that it insinuates our daughters were purposely creating a dangerous environment for the LGBTQ+ community, which is a disgraceful and a dishonest portrayal of the facts.
The truth of the matter is by issuing that response to someone, unknown from the public, he made this environment unsafe for our daughters by putting a target on their backs and he put them at genuine risk for someone unstable to seek retaliation against these girls.”
A post was made on Facebook by a woman named Zoe Bowens complaining about the t-shirt situation.
She posted a response that cut off who sent it, but was clearly by someone claiming to have some authority within 4-H.
"The volunteer who led this event for years will not be leading it next year and we will train the new leader on the appropriate clothing," the author wrote.
“The shirt suggests that anyone with non-binary or gender-expansive pronouns are not normal," the email response said.
"Choosing to wear the shirts as a team at a public event representing 4H led to the creation of a less safe, less welcoming, and for some, seriously harmful environment for other youth or adults.”