For LGBT kids, prom time can mean having to win a lawsuit

Posted on 19 Mar 2009 at 5:12pm
By Leslie Robinson General Gayety

Lesbian in Indiana forces school district to allow her to wear a tuxedo

At this time of year, the thoughts of high school seniors all across America turn toward the prom:

"How do I rent a tux?" "Can Mom afford that dress I want?" "Is the guy I like going to be a total jerk and ask a freshman instead?"

"Will I win my lawsuit?"

OK, that one isn’t so common. But it has been very much a concern for a 17-year-old lesbian student at Lebanon High School in central Indiana.

The senior filed suit against the school district for the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom.

Wow. The closest I came to a prom-related legal struggle was considering charging my date, his Triumph convertible and the wind with a wrongful pre-prom assault on my coif.

This young woman in Indiana, whose name wasn’t revealed, knows herself a lot better than I did at her age.

Her school principal told her she couldn’t wear a tux to the prom, and that she must wear a dress. She responded by calling in the American Civil Liberties Union. By God and Calvin Klein, she fought for what she wanted, and she won! The Associated Press reported this week that the school had changed the rules to say students had to wear formal attire to the prom, but that it did not have to be gender-specific.

Indystar.com reported that court papers said the blossoming lesbian doesn’t wear dresses because she feels they express a sexual identity that she doesn’t embrace.
I wonder if such sentiments caused a collective Hoosier heart attack. After all, the school district’s longstanding policy on prom attire — only boys may wear tuxedos, and girls must wear dresses — had never been challenged.

But the ACLU of Indiana argued that the policy violated the federal Title lX law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in schools. The group also claimed the policy violated the girl’s constitutional right of free speech.

"From a First Amendment standpoint, wearing a tuxedo makes an affirmative statement about her own sexuality," said her lawyer.

It can look pretty hot, too, but I doubt anybody mentioned that in the court filings.
The head of the American Family Association of Indiana had said he supported the principal’s initial decision because it reflects the community’s standards.

No doubt. But it was in those rigid standards that the problem lay — as unfortunate as a stinkweed corsage.

"I don’t think we should allow kids to act out certain impulses," said the AFA guy. "A girl in a tuxedo doing this as a sexual statement, that’s something the school should draw the line at."

Maybe if she had said she was doing this as a fashion statement he’d approve. She could claim bow ties are slimming.

This isn’t Indiana’s first rumpus over prom garb. In 1999 a male high school senior in Indianapolis successfully sued to wear a dress to the event. In 2006 a transgender student in Gary was denied entry to the prom for wearing an evening gown; Kevin "K.K." Logan’s lawsuit is pending.

None of the accounts I read of the Lebanon High School senior’s battle mentioned whether she has a date for the prom. Does she have a girlfriend? Did she ask someone to accompany her? Will she go alone or with friends?
If she has a date, it’s a good thing the matter was settled quickly. The prom is April 25. The girls have precious little time to coordinate colors!

The lesbian has a sensible classmate by the name of DeAmber Jaggers who told Indystar.com that she suspects the school made its decision due to the girl’s orientation.

"What bothers me is that you won’t let someone wear something conservative, but you’ll let girls go with see-through parts of their outfits or something short," said Jaggers. "A tuxedo’s not hurting anybody. Why should it matter?"
Personally, I’ve come to agree with the school district that not just anybody can wear a tux. I say an individual who wants to wear one must first be able to spell "cummerbund."

E-mail LesRobinsn@aol.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 20, 2009.

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