A transgender high school student in Gulfport, Mississippi did not join her classmates at her graduation ceremony on Saturday after a federal judge allowed her school to force her to wear “what the boys are wearing” to the event.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi said in a statement that the court’s decision to “uphold the school district’s explicit discrimination of our client is deeply disappointing and concerning”.
“Our client should be focused on celebrating this life milestone alongside her friends and loved ones,” the organisation added. “Instead, this ruling casts shame and humiliation on a day that should be focused on joy and pride.”
The ACLU filed an emergency request for a temporary restraining order against Harrison County school officials and Harrison Central High School on behalf of the parents a 17-year-old student identified in court documents as LB, who argued that she was prohibited from wearing a white dress and heels she purchased for the ceremony.
LB’s parents, Samantha Brown and Henry Brown, accused the school district of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and violating the teen’s First Amendment rights, according to the complaint.
On 9 May, Harrison Central principal Kelly Fuller told LB that she would have to wear “what the boys are wearing” if she wanted to join the ceremony, according to the complaint filed in US District Court on 18 May.
LB has been openly transgender since she began attending the school in her freshman year four years ago, she said. She wore dresses to classes and extracurricular events throughout high school, including prom, “without issue or repercussion,” LB stated in her filing.
School superintendent Mitchell King told LB’s mother that she would be required to wear “pants, socks, and shoes, like a boy,” if she wanted to attend the ceremony, according to court filings. Mr King also testified in court documents that the district relies on birth certificates to record whether students are boys or girls.
An attorney for the school district responded in a filing stating that “participating in a voluntary graduation ceremony when you are no longer a student and wearing a cap and gown and complying with the dress code you agreed to abide by does not infringe on protected rights or justify extraordinary injunctive relief.”
LB ultimately skipped the ceremony on 20 May, hours after US District District Judge Taylor B McNeel denied her motion for a temporary restraining order to block the school’s enforcement of the dress code.
“For LB, high school graduation signified the beginning of a new chapter in her life, and a celebration of what she achieved in the past four years,” ACLU staff attorney Linda Morris said in a statement after the ruling. “LB chose a dress that made her feel beautiful and confident. That’s how she wanted to feel when she took her diploma in hand.”
The Independent has requested comment from Wynn Clark, the attorney for Harrison county schools.
“It’s deeply offensive that the school would choose to take a celebration of our daughter and her accomplishments and attempt to ruin it with such discriminatory action,” LB’s mother Samantha said in a statement accompanying the filing.
Mississippi is among several states that have filed a wave of legislation aimed at LGBT+ people, particularly trans youth, in recent years.
The state does not have a law explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBT+ people or bullying LGBT+ students.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill into law earlier this year that prohibits trans youth from receiving affirming healthcare, against guidance from most major medical organisations supporting age-appropriate, medically necessary and potentially life-saving care.
More than a dozen other states have enacted similar laws or policies banning gender-affirming care for young trans people. Court injunctions have blocked bans from going into effect in three states.
More than half of all trans youth in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 are at risk of losing access to such care in their home state, according to the Human Rights Campaign.