03/29/2012

Southern Poverty Law Center Reaches Resolution With Tuscaloosa County Schools That Same-Sex Couples May Attend Prom

Alabama's Tuscaloosa County School System will allow its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students to attend prom with same-sex dates. The school district also has recognized the right of students to wear clothing with slogans expressing acceptance of LGBT people.
 
The district’s statement comes after the SPLC sent a letter to school officials in January on behalf of a Brookwood High School student who was forced to remove a sweatshirt with a slogan expressing acceptance of the LGBT community. An administrator also indicated that the student could not attend the prom with a same-sex date.
 

Elizabeth Garrett
School officials forced Alabama high school student Elizabeth Garrett to remove her sweatshirt that includes an expression of acceptance of gay people.
“We are happy that the school district has agreed to recognize and support the rights of its LGBT students,” said SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe. “Gay and transgender students are entitled to attend prom with a date of their choice just like everyone else.”
 
Elizabeth Garrett, a 10th-grader at Brookwood, wore a sweatshirt on Jan. 5 with the words “Warning, This Individual Infected With ‘The Gay,’ Proceed With Caution.” She wore it to express her support for LGBT rights and to communicate, in a humorous way, that there is nothing wrong with gay people.
 
A school official demanded that Elizabeth remove her sweatshirt, claiming that it was “distracting.” The administrator released Elizabeth to her class only after she placed it in her backpack. On a separate occasion during this school year, the administrator indicated that same-sex couples are not permitted to attend the school prom together.
 
“Prom is an occasion that most students look forward to,” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy that I’ll get to go to prom for the first time. Although, I’m not a confrontational person, it was important to stand up for who I am and to speak out for other students.”
 
Statements supportive of LGBT people, as well as attending the prom with a same-sex date, are protected under the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. This is true even in communities that harbor anti-gay sentiment. LGBT students are increasingly living true to who they are and they deserve the respect and support of their schools.
 
“School officials should not be quick to ban speech expressing an opinion they simply dislike,” Wolfe said. “Banning such speech is usually a bad answer and can subject a school system to expensive litigation.”
 
The SPLC was alerted to Elizabeth’s situation by the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition (ASSC). The SPLC is part of the coalition, which provides training and seeks to improve state and district school policies affecting Alabama’s LGBT students.
 
The SPLC is dedicated to defending the rights of the LGBT community. The SPLC works to ensure a safe and respectful learning environment for all students – including LGBT students – through educational campaigns and legal action.

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