Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Prom Season Again, Bring on the Lawsuits

Every year around this time it seems we get to post about a student's lawsuit challenging a school district's gender-based prom policies. This year's lawsuit targets Lebanon (Indiana) School District, which has refused to allow a lesbian student to wear a tuxedo to her high school prom. The student, represented by the ACLU, claims that the restriction violates her First Amendment right to freely express her sexual orientation, and is an illegal sex discrimination in violation of Title IX. A legal scholar quoted in the article points out that gender-based dress codes, such as those prohibiting boys from wearing earrings, have been upheld by courts, but that prom-specific dress codes have not received definitive treatment.

The fact that this policy appears to target the student because of her sexual orientation could help the ACLU distinguish it from the typical dress code case and may underscore her free expression claims in a way that a more general gender-based dress-code policy (such as one prohibiting all girls from wearing pants to school?) would not.

Moreover, as a student interviewed in the story pointed out, there is a certain irony in morals-based opposition to girls in tuxedos, which is more "conservative" attire than the often revealing and sexually-suggestive dresses that girls are allowed to wear. On the other hand, she aptly stated, "A tuxedo's not hurting anybody. Why should it matter?"