Judge upholds Mississippi school’s dress policy that bars transgender students from wearing dress at graduation
Published 5:52 am Saturday, May 20, 2023
A federal judge has denied a Mississippi transgender student’s request for a temporary relief order that would allow her to wear a dress and high heels to her graduation.
U.S. District Court Judge Taylor McNeel denied the request late Friday night after opposing attorneys clashed over whether a Mississippi school district can require a transgender girl to abide by a boys’ dress code as she and her classmates graduate from high school this weekend.
The 17-year-old girl, listed in court papers by her initials L.B., had chosen a dress to wear with her cap and gown Saturday at Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, a coastal town about 160 miles south of Jackson. Graduating boys are expected to wear white shirts and black slacks, while girls are expected to wear white dresses.
Harrison County School District officials told L.B. that she must follow the boys’ clothing rules for graduation, according to a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties filed Thursday against the district.
The lawsuit said L.B. wore dresses to classes and extracurricular events throughout high school, including to a prom last year, and she should not face discriminatory treatment during graduation.
“L.B. and her parents have suffered significant emotional distress, humiliation, shame, and anxiety, and fear that they will be forced to miss this important moment in L.B.’s personal life and academic career,” ACLU attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
Wynn Clark, attorney for the Harrison County School Board, responded in court papers Friday that participating in a graduation ceremony is voluntary and not a constitutionally protected right for any student.
“The loss of an opportunity to participate in a graduation ceremony is not an unconstitutional infringement on a student’s right to freely exercise his religious beliefs,” Clark wrote.
Court records show the opposing attorneys met during a settlement conference Friday but did not reach an agreement. McNeel held a multi-hour-long hearing after the conference.
Harrison Central principal Kelly Fuller told L.B. and her parents May 9 about the expectation that L.B. abide by the boys’ dress code, the ACLU said. Fuller said the request to meet with L.B. was prompted by Harrison County School District Superintendent Mitchell King, who had called to ask what transgender students were wearing to graduation, according to the lawsuit.
King told the teenager’s mother in a phone call that L.B. “needs to wear pants, socks, and shoes like a boy,” and King repeatedly misgendered L.B., the ACLU said in a statement.
L.B. said in the statement that the dress she chose for graduation is appropriate and the superintendent’s objections are unfair to her, her family and all transgender students.
“I have the right to celebrate my graduation as who I am, not who anyone else wants me to be,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.