Transgender girl won't attend high school graduation after judge denies plea to let her wear dress

ByIsabel Rosales and Paradise Afshar, CNN, CNNWire
Monday, May 22, 2023
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GULFPORT, Miss. -- A Mississippi federal judge denied a motion Friday, filed by the family of a transgender high school student requesting she be allowed to wear a dress and heels under her robe at her Gulfport high school graduation, CNN reported.

The 17-year-old, identified in court documents by her initials "L.B.," will not attend her graduation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.

L.B. and her parents, Samantha Brown and Henry Brown, filed the federal lawsuit Thursday demanding Harrison County School District allow the teen to wear what she wishes during Saturday's graduation ceremony from Harrison Central High School.

Attorneys with the ACLU of Mississippi are representing the family.

The Browns cited a violation of their child's civil rights, accusing the school district of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender and violating the teen's First Amendment rights, according to the complaint.

The teen had picked out a dress and heels to wear with the traditional cap and gown in accordance with the school's dress code for female students, according to a media release from the ACLU.

"Our client is being shamed and humiliated for explicitly discriminatory reasons, and her family is being denied a once-in-a-lifetime milestone in their daughter's life," ACLU spokesperson Gillian Branstetter told CNN in an email. "No one should be forced to miss their graduation simply because of who they are."

The Harrison County School District's policy on graduation states: "Students are expected to wear dress shoes, dress clothes (dresses or dressy pant-suit for girls and dress pants, shirt, and tie for the boys)." The policy does not mention dress code rules for LGBTQ students or specify students must dress according to their sex assigned at birth.

"The Board further finds and determines that a high school graduation ceremony is a sacred and inspirational ritual which is intended to be surrounded with decorum of dignity, grace, solemnity, reverence, pomp and circumstance," the school policy states, according to court documents. "Students whose attire does not meet the minimum dress requirements may not be allowed to participate in the graduation exercises."

A commencement participation agreement is included within the court documents. It shows L.B. and her mother signed the document on March 14, 2023, agreeing to follow conditions required for participating in the graduation ceremony, the court documents show.

"My graduation is supposed to be a moment of pride and celebration and school officials want to turn it into a moment of humiliation and shame," L.B. said in the release. "The clothing I've chosen is fully appropriate for the ceremony and the superintendent's objections to it are entirely unfair to myself, my family, and all transgender students like me. I have the right to celebrate my graduation as who I am, not who anyone else wants me to be."

The student has been openly transgender since she began attending the school as a freshman, according to the complaint, and her identity has been known to her classmates, teachers and administrators.

Mitchell King, the superintendent of Harrison County School District, testified in court documents the district relies on birth certificates to record whether students are male or female.

The complaint describes a phone conversation between Samantha Brown and King, in which King says L.B. "is still a boy," therefore "he needs to wear pants, socks, and shoes, like a boy."

The complaint also notes L.B. attended the school's prom last year wearing a formal dress and high-heeled shoes, without any issues or repercussions.

CNN has reached out to the Harrison County School District and Harrison Central High School for comment. Graduation ceremonies are slated for 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday, according to the district's official website.

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