A federal judge in Mississippi denied a transgender teen’s emergency request to be allowed to wear a dress and heels to her high school graduation. As a result, the student missed her graduation ceremony this weekend rather than be “humiliated,” she said.
Last Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 17-year-old student, identified as “L.B.,” and her parents against Harrison County School District.
According to the lawsuit, L.B. “entered high school as a girl and has lived every aspect of her high school career as a girl.” CNN reports that classmates, teachers, and administrators at Harrison Central High School have been aware of her gender identity for the past four years, and she attended prom wearing a blue dress without any objection from the school.
“I was being me, and I felt very accepted at the time,” L.B. said. “I felt very understood. I felt that I had a great support system at that school.”
But according to an ACLU press release, L.B. was informed by Harrison Central High principal Kelly Fuller on May 9 that she would be required to adhere to the school’s dress code for male students at the May 20 graduation ceremony. L.B. says that she was brought to Fuller’s office and asked what she intended to wear to graduation. She told the principal that she had picked out a white dress to wear under her cap and gown as specified in the school’s dress code for female students.
“Then she told me I was not going to be allowed to wear a dress, and I would have to wear boy clothes,” L.B. said.
The school’s graduation dress code, which was distributed two days after L.B.’s meeting with Fuller and differs from the school’s dress code throughout the year, requires girls to wear white dresses and boys to wear black suits.
L.B. and her mother reportedly signed a commencement participation agreement on March 14, agreeing to adhere to the conditions required for participation in the graduation ceremony. But, according to CNN, the dress code policy does not specify that students must dress according to their sex assigned at birth, and L.B. and her parents allege in their lawsuit that the school took no similar steps to enforce the dress code for cisgender students.
“This has never been an issue before,” L.B.’s mother, Samantha Brown said. “We felt like we were abiding by the dress code according to what she identifies as.”
According to the lawsuit, Harrison County School District superintendent Mitchell King specifically called Fuller to find out what L.B. intended to wear to graduation. In a May 10 phone call with L.B.’s mother, King allegedly repeatedly misgendered L.B., insisting that she “is still a boy” and that “he needs to wear pants, socks, and shoes, like a boy,” according to the complaint. King reportedly testified in court that the school district relies on birth certificates to determine students’ genders.
In their complaint, L.B. and her family accused the school district of violating her First Amendment rights and of discriminating on the basis of sex.
“It’s deeply offensive the school would choose to take a celebration of our daughter and her accomplishments and attempt to ruin it with such discriminatory action,” Samantha Brown said in the ACLU press release. “Like any parent of a graduating senior, we’re eager to see L.B. cross this critical threshold and enter a new stage of her life, but the superintendent is threatening this once-in-a-lifetime moment for our family. We’re so proud of our daughter and are determined to protect her from this baseless attack on her rights and her identity.”
“My graduation is supposed to be a moment of pride and celebration and school officials want to turn it into a moment of humiliation and shame,” L.B. said. “The clothing I’ve chosen is fully appropriate for the ceremony and the superintendent’s objections to it are entirely unfair to myself, my family, and all transgender students like me. I have the right to celebrate my graduation as who I am, not who anyone else wants me to be.”
On Friday, a federal judge in Gulfport, Mississippi denied the ACLU’s motion. L.B. decided to skip the Saturday graduation ceremony because, she told CNN, she would “rather stand up for what’s right than be humiliated.”
“Our client is being shamed and humiliated for explicitly discriminatory reasons, and her family is being denied a once-in-a-lifetime milestone in their daughter’s life,” an ACLU spokesperson said. “No one should be forced to miss their graduation simply because of who they are.”
L.B.’s mother said the family is currently evaluating their legal options following the judge’s decision.
“She’s a good student, she made it to the finish line,” Samantha Brown said. “That should be more of the things the children should be worried about rather than whether they will be targeted by what they identify as.”