Thursday, February 14, 2013

SPLC Demands Missouri High School Ends Policy Banning Same-Sex Couples From Prom

Courtesy of Stacy Dawson
By Brody Levesque | SIKESTON, MO -- When 17 year old openly gay Stacy Dawson decided to see if he could bring his boyfriend to Prom not long after school started last fall, he found that the Scott County Central High School student handbook specifically stated that only "traditional" couples were allowed and that a school district policy prohibits same-sex couples from attending school dances. The policy, outlined in the student handbook, states that “[h]igh school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.”
Dawson then sought the advice and advocacy of a staff member at the high school to intercede for him with the school board in hopes that the policy would be rescinded in time to attend the prom on April 20. 
In an phone conference with LGBTQ Nation Thursday, Dawson said that after he had not heard back from the staff member after a lengthy period of time elapsed, he went to the staffer- an unidentified school administrator- only to hear that the board would not alter the existing policy.
Frustrated, Dawson said that he Googled to find out what his rights were and how to obtain assistance in his quest to go to prom. Dawson said that his research led him to the Southern Poverty Law Center which agreed to assist him. Alesdair Ittelson, a staff attorney for the SPLC, was assigned to help Dawson.
Ittelson told LGBTQ Nation Thursday that the SPLC had sent a demand letter to the school district which threatened legal action unless the policy is rescinded by Feb. 25.
“Denying Stacy’s right to bring his boyfriend to prom is blatantly discriminatory and in violation of his constitutional rights,” said Ittelson. “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.” 
Dawson told LGBTQ Nation that the reason he went to these efforts to be able to attend prom with his boyfriend not just only for himself.
"I'm doing this for anyone to bring anyone they want to prom. I hope that my school and the school board members understand its a wrong policy." 
“Prom is an important milestone in high school, and I'll be devastated if I’m not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend,” Dawson said adding, “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 SPLC’s letter states that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decision, the school cannot censor Dawson’s protected right to free expression. That 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, where 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.”