02/14/2013

SPLC demands Missouri high school end policy banning same-sex couples from prom

Stacy Dawson, an openly gay junior at Scott County Central High School in Missouri, simply wants to attend the school prom this spring with his boyfriend. But his school, like many others across the country, prohibits same-sex couples from attending dances together. 

The SPLC today urged the school to rescind its policy, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on Dawson’s right to free expression under the First Amendment.

“Prom is an important milestone in high school, and I would be devastated if I’m not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend,” Dawson 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.”

In a letter to the school and the Scott County Central School District, the SPLC threatened legal action unless the policy is rescinded by Feb. 25. Outlined in the student handbook, the policy states that “[h]igh school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.” Dawson was told by a school administrator that the school board refused to revise it.  

“Denying Stacy’s right to bring his boyfriend to prom is blatantly discriminatory and in violation of his constitutional rights,” said Alesdair Ittelson, staff attorney for the SPLC. “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.”  

The SPLC’s letter states that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the school cannot censor Dawson’s protected right to free expression. The 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, in which   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.”

In another case cited in the letter, Fricke v. Lynch, a school district had to pay more than $116,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees for denying a student’s right to bring a same-sex date to a school dance.