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ACLU sends warning to Pa. school district on behalf of transgender student

Friday, April 26, 2013
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RED LION, Pa. — The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a warning to a Pennsylvania school district on behalf of a transgender student who was denied the chance to run for prom king when his principal placed his female birth name in the column for prom queen, despite repeated requests to be listed under his correct gender identity.

As LGBTQ Nation reported Thursday, Issak Oliver Wolfe, who is openly transgender, said he had hoped to run for prom king at Red Lion Area Senior High School in Red Lion, Pa.

Issak Wolfe

After being assured by the prom committee and the prom’s faculty adviser that he would be listed on the ballot for prom king, principal Mark Shue decided to switch Issak’s name to his female birth name and list him as a candidate for prom queen instead.

According to Issak, Shue has since threatened to bar him from attending prom with his girlfriend, who is an alumnus of the school, after she posted statements and a petition online supporting Issak. The prom is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, April 27.

“I never had an issue with my school about accepting me for who I am, so I was shocked and humiliated when the ballots came out and they had me listed as the wrong gender,” said Issak, an 18-year-old senior.

“To do that with no warning, and then try to intimidate us into keeping quiet, is degrading and hurtful.”

Shue allegedly told Issak and his father William Stambaugh, that his decision to change the prom court ballot was based on “tradition” and he wasn’t comfortable putting Wolfe on the boys’ side of the ballot.

When Issak’s girlfriend, Taylor Thomas, posted a message on Facebook and created an online petition supporting him, Shue allegedly called Issak into his office and threatened to prevent him from bringing her to prom unless she changed the posts.

“Issak is accepted by his family, teachers, and peers for who he is,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

“He had no reason to expect to be treated differently by school officials, and Shue’s efforts to silence Issak and Taylor and suppress their First Amendment rights are completely inappropriate and unconstitutional.”

Issak is seeking an apology from Shue and a promise that future students will be allowed to run for prom king or queen in accordance with their gender identity as well as assurance that he will be able to attend the prom with his girlfriend.

The ACLU is also demanding that the school agree by Friday, May 3, that Issak will be able to attend graduation wearing a black cap and gown for boys, as opposed to the yellow cap and gown mandated for girls, and have his male name read at the ceremony.

Shue has previously declined to say whether or not Wolfe’s male name will be read at graduation, as he has repeatedly requested.

“Placing Issak on the ballot under ‘prom queen’ was a petty and mean-spirited decision that served no purpose other than to humiliate him in front of the rest of the school community,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

“Schools should be fostering an inclusive environment where all students are allowed to be themselves instead of needlessly making students feel stigmatized for being who they are,” said Block.

A copy of the ACLU letter, petition and Taylor’s Facebook post is here (PDF).

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