Friday, October 03, 2008

Court Won't Throw Out Transgender Student's Prom Dress Case

Recently a federal district court judge in Indiana refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a Gary, Indiana high school's decision to prohibit a male-to-female transgender student from attending the prom in a dress. We blogged about the case here, after it was filed last December. So you may recall that in his senior year at West Side High, the plaintiff, Kevin "K.K." Logan, began wearing women's clothing and accessories to school as a reflection of his gender identity. He maintains, and the school district does not deny, that his manner of dress did not cause disruption to the school and that he was largely accepted and supported by the faculty and peers. Until, that is, he was physically barred from entering the prom by the principal, Diana Rouse. She was apparently invoking School Board Policy #319, which prohibits "Clothing/accessories that advertise sexual orientation, sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, profanity, negative social or negative educational statements."

Logan sued the school district claiming that School Board Policy #319 is an invalid restriction on free speech protected by the First Amendment and that the application of the policy to him was discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. The school district filed a motion to dismiss both claims, which the federal court denied. The nature of the defendant's motion did not require the court to address the legal merits of Logan's case decision, and the court did not do so. Rather, the court simply noted that the standard for dismissal for failure to state a claim (Rule 12(b)(6)) is a high, and that it would be "premature" to dismiss them at this early stage of the litigation. Notably, however, regarding Logan's First Amendment claim, the court did cite language from appellate court decisions suggesting that courts should not interfere in a school's effort to enforce a disciplinary policy. However, even those cases recognize that the school's policy and its application must be tied in some way to actual discipline -- promoting order and preventing disruption. From the facts of this case, such a purpose is hard to see. After Logan's friends learned that he had been denied entry to the prom, they left the prom to sit with him in the parking lot. This suggests that the policy itself was more disruptive than the ostensible breech.

Decision is: Logan v. Gary Community Sch. Corp., 2008 WL 4411518 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 25, 2008).