Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Prom season discrimination

I know we do this every year, but this is another post about discrimination against gender non-conforming students. It always happens somewhere in the United States during prom/yearbook season.

The latest incident--out of Louisiana--is nothing unique (unfortunately). A gay high school student wanted to go to her prom wearing a tuxedo. According to a student contract, girls (regardless of sexual orientation) must wear dresses to the prom. She had heard that teachers would refuse to chaperone the event if a girl arrived wearing a tuxedo.

The good news, and maybe what makes this story somewhat different from others, is the quick reversal of the school policy. Schools administrators, including the principal who told the student's mother "Girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that's the way it is," came under pressure from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

So, yay--I guess. But the reason I keep writing these things is that they keep happening. We have been focused on bathrooms lately and of course there are ongoing issues about gender identity and sports participation as well. Though I do not want to create an issues hierarchy or suggest that bathrooms and sports are more sensitive/less palatable topics for many in America than prom attire, I do think that the policing of gender via high school fashion is something people just need to let go of. A lot of today's fashion is a throwback to the 80s--the era of androgyny. (And if we were not in 80s redux, this policy would still not be acceptable.) Raising healthy children and keeping them safe is not about monitoring where they pee and what they wear to prom. But there will be another incident like this next year, maybe even this year; prom season is far from over. I hope stories like this in which the backlash against administrators was strong and quick are serving as a deterrent.

On a different, non-Title IX note, this dress code in Monroe, Louisiana (available at the first link), in addition to being discriminatory against LGBT individuals is also pretty classist. The mandate for tuxedos and gowns and no athletic shoes is certainly a financial burden for some students. It is less likely that these students will come forward because of shame around their economic situation and because we find it very difficult to recognize class discrimination in a country that presents itself as a meritocracy.