UPDATE: One day after the Southern Poverty Law Center urged Scott County Central High School in Missouri to rescind its policy barring same sex couples from participating in prom, the school has revised their policy allowing Stacy Dawson and his boyfriend to attend the school dance together.
Per news reports, the school is removing the offending line from their handbook, and said the line was never meant to be exclusive in the first place.
"I found out why the stipulation in the student handbook was originally put in there, and it's rather innocent, to be honest," Scott County Central School District superintendent, Alvin McFerran said. "This was during a time 10-15 years ago that the previous administration was having issues with some of the students trying to come in on either the single rate or the couple rate. They implemented that to make sure they couldn't circumvent the rates that students were supposed to pay as they entered into our dances."
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, and PROMO, Missouri’s statewide organization advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality through legislative action, electoral politics, grassroots organizing and community education, are applauding school administrators for changing the outdated policy.
“We congratulate school leaders for standing up for all students and allowing Stacy to take part in the time-honored tradition of prom,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “School leaders have a duty to all students and should be striving to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming, not one that marginalizes young people and says who they are is wrong. In this case, they did the right thing.”
A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO, also commends the decision of the school leaders, “We are glad to see that the high school has come to its senses and made the right decision. Prom should be an enjoyable inclusive event. All students need to feel safe and secure in school.”
According to media reports, Dawson called prom "an important milestone in high school, and I would be devastated if I'm not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend. He added, "It isn't fair that a school can randomly disregard students' rights because it doesn't agree with who you want to take to prom."
The case of anti-LGBT discrimination comes on the heels of another story in Indiana last week, where a small group of students and community members worked to ban gay and lesbian students from attending the Sullivan High School prom. In that case, school officials did the right thing, saying the prom is open to all students and nobody will be excluded, including gay and lesbian students.
Discrimination against LGBT students is widespread and can have devastating consequences. Last year, HRC released a groundbreaking youth survey that illustrates the obstacles LGBT youth face. The survey found that 42 percent of LGBT youth say they live in a community that isn’t accepting of LGBT people. Nearly one-third of youth say their biggest problems in life include not being accepted by their family, bullying at school and a fear of living openly. And 92 percent of youth say they hear negative messages from others about being LGBT.
Via Southern Poverty Law Center
Stacy Dawson, an openly gay junior at Scott County Central High School in Missouri, simply wants to attend the school prom this spring with his boyfriend. But his school, like many others across the country, prohibits same-sex couples from attending dances together.
The Southern Poverty Law Center urged, Feb. 14 the school to rescind its policy, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on Dawson’s right to free expression under the First Amendment.
“Prom is an important milestone in high school, and I would be devastated if I’m not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend,” Dawson said. “It isn’t fair that a school can randomly disregard students’ rights because it doesn’t agree with who you want to take to prom.”
In a letter to the school and the Scott County Central School District, the SPLC threatened legal action unless the policy is rescinded by Feb. 25. Outlined in the student handbook, the policy states that “[h]igh school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.” Dawson was told by a school administrator that the school board refused to revise it.
“Denying Stacy’s right to bring his boyfriend to prom is blatantly discriminatory and in violation of his constitutional rights,” said Alesdair Ittelson, staff attorney for the SPLC. “This unlawful policy reminds us that anti-gay sentiment still serves as a platform for schools to deny the rights of same-sex couples. We call upon the school district to end this unconstitutional policy and recognize Stacy’s rights without further delay.”
The SPLC’s letter states that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the school cannot censor Dawson’s protected right to free expression. The decision explains that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gates.”
The letter also cites a Mississippi case, McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, in which a federal court held that a student’s effort to “communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date” was “the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment and such expression is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
In another case cited in the letter, Fricke v. Lynch, a school district had to pay more than $116,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees for denying a student’s right to bring a same-sex date to a school dance.
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