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Gay Student Sues School Over Prom Dance Floor Separations

For whatever reason, high school proms bring out the anti-LGBTQ side of school administrators. One Mississippi school cancelled its prom rather than let a lesbian student bring a female date, and then allegedly put on a "sham prom" for that student alone while the rest of the school partied at another location.

And according to a lawsuit filed by a gay student in Buffalo, the run-up to this year's prom has been filled with announcements over the loudspeaker advising students that "couples" tickets are reserved for opposite-sex couples, same-sex dates are prohibited, and if same-sex students are seen dancing at the prom, the principal will separate them. Not exactly an LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere, but not unexpected from a school that allegedly also won't allow students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance.

"Humiliated and Excluded"

McKinley High School junior Byshop Elliott says he collected over 100 signatures from classmates and staff to support formation of a GSA at the school. But, according to his lawsuit, the school has ignored multiple applications to form the club. The suit also claims "the adults responsible for safeguarding their rights have chosen to exclude LGBTQ students from their protection," and school administrators "actively endorse anti-LGBTQ discrimination."

Elliott's lawsuit specifically targets McKinley Principal Crystal Boling-Barton for anti-LGBTQ policies and practices relating to school dances:

Over at least the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, Principal Boling-Barton made multiple announcements over the school-wide intercom system before several school dances stating that same-sex couples would not be permitted to attend as dates. Principal Boling-Barton enforced this policy by ensuring that, when students attempted to purchase "couples" tickets, they were asked who their intended date would be; students who named a same-sex partner would not be permitted to purchase a pair of tickets.
Students who were denied tickets felt humiliated and excluded from some of the most prominent and popular school-wide social events of the year.
Buying tickets separately was no solution. During that same period, Principal Boling-Barton made it her practice while chaperoning dances to prevent same-sex couples from dancing together. If same-sex couples were observed dancing together closely in the same manner as opposite-sex couples, it was Principal Boling-Barton's well-known practice to single out the same-sex couples and instruct them to separate or face discipline.

Equal Access to Prom

These actions amount to violation of federal equal access to education and civil rights statutes, as well as students' First Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit. Elliott is asking for an injunction forcing the school to approve the GSA as well as punitive damages against Principal Boling-Barton.

Anti-LGBTQ discrimination lawsuits regarding prom have been successful in the past, but only to an extent. Courts have declared that schools have violated gay students' civil rights by denying access to prom. But most courts are loath to force schools to act in a certain way, i.e., by telling what policies to implement or clubs to approve. How the U.S. District Court will rule in Elliott's suit remains to be seen.

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