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SPLC demands Mo. school ends policy banning same-sex couples from prom

Thursday, February 14, 2013

SIKESTON, Mo. — A school district in southeast Missouri is facing a threat of legal action over a policy that prohibits same-sex couples from attending prom together.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday accused the Scott County Central School District in Sikeston, Mo., of discrimination and gave the district until Feb. 25 to revise the school dance policy or face a potential lawsuit.

Stacy Dawson
Provided photo, courtesy of Stacy Dawson.

The controversy began last fall when Stacy Dawson, 17, an openly gay student, began investigating whether he would be permitted to his boyfriend to the prom. In reviewing the school handbook, he found that the Scott County Central High School specially allowed only “traditional” couples at the prom, and that school district policy prohibited same-sex couples from attending school dances.

The policy stated, “high school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.”

Stacy told LGBTQ Nation on Thursday that he 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of a staff member at the high school to intercede for him with the school board, in hopes that the policy would be rescinded in time to attend the prom on April 20.

But after considerable time had elapsed, Stacy said he went back to the staff member — an unidentified school administrator — and was told the board would not alter the existing policy.

Frustrated, Stacy searched Google to find out what his rights were and how to obtain assistance in his quest to go to prom with his boyfriend, he told LGBTQ Nation.

Stacy said 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 Stacy’s request.

Ittelson told LGBTQ Nation that the SPLC had sent the demand letter to the school district, calling for an end to the “unconstitutional policy and to recognize Stacy’s rights without further delay.”

“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.”

“I’m doing this for anyone to bring anyone they want to prom,” Stacy told LGBTQ Nation. “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,” he 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.”

The SPLC’s letter cites that under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the school cannot censor Stacy’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.”

District superintendent Alvin McFerren declined comment.

Associated Press contributed to this report.
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22 more reader comments:

  1. Lame.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:07pm
  2. Good, sue their asses,that is the only way this shit will stop until Federal American citizen rights for the American gay community are enacted. How anyone can be so blind as to not see that anti-gay bigotry is personal and intentional is beyond me. It is about as personal as it gets, as is racism and sexism.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:09pm
  3. GOOD! Crap like this needs to stop! ^ And I agree! I’d totally sue them!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:12pm
  4. When are adults going to grow up-I hope the prom is a sea of teenage gay couples!!!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:12pm
  5. Good for this kid, don’t stand for that bigoted crap. Impressed that he did his homework and found the SPLC.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:15pm
  6. A very bright and brave young man, I’d say. I had the brains and the courage this guy has when I was his age, but we didn’t have the legal means to do much.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:18pm
  7. I just thought of something- The prom theme should be rainbows!!! =D

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:20pm
  8. Not surprising. What do you expect from a state that has a statue of Rush Limbaugh and John Ashcroft in its capital ! The “Hall Of Famous Missourians”. More like INFAMOUS.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:21pm
  9. I live in Jackson, Tn and surprisingly we had another issue here. My friend was told since he was gay, that he HAD to bring a same sex date. It was kind of weird in an opposite sort of way. They recanted what they said, and he brought his boyfriend anyway but still. Saying that he HAD to bring his bf? Weird.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:28pm
  10. I agree very brave and I truly Hope the ban will no longer stop lgbt couples from going to prom

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:28pm
  11. For Tennessee, that stance surprises me, given the political and social climate where gays are concerned.

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:35pm
  12. This should be country wide!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:37pm
  13. Sue them into the last century, which is where they seem to be living!! Ignorance, intolerance, bigotry, discrimination and HATE…that’s what the school board is teaching!!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:54pm
  14. Southern Poverty Law Center should tell Secretary Arne Duncan to enforce the law or resign

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:57pm
  15. We are praying for a good outcome

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:51pm
  16. Thankfully the superintendent of Sulivan HS has rejected any discriminattion of this kind even tho some “christian” citizens have proposed a separate “traditional” prom. Bigots

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:05pm
  17. Go Stacy! Stand up for your rights!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:08pm
  18. I hope all the straights boycott this freakfest!!!!!

    Posted on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:18pm
  19. It’s about time.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 2:21am
  20. Time schools stop teaching homophobia!!

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 7:05am
  21. Southern Poverty Law Center needs to demand that Secretary Arne Duncan enforce Title IX laws or tell Barack Obama to fire Duncan and his whole gay bashing U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 8:02am
  22. I was proud to hear his interview on the news last night. He knows it may not change for him, but he wants things changed for future students. Brave young man.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 9:37am