A transgender Mississippi student declined to participate in her high school graduation on Saturday after a federal judge ruled that her local school district could bar her from participating unless she dressed in clothes required for boys.
U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel, a Donald Trump appointee, said in a filing late on Friday that he would not issue an injunction to block the Harrison County School District from enforcing its dress code policy.
The 17-year-old graduating senior — known as L.B. in legal filings — of Harrison Central High School, in Gulfport, Mississippi, had sought out the injunction so that she could attend her graduation ceremony wearing clothes consistent with her gender identity.
Lawyers representing L.B. from the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi argued that their client had selected a white dress appropriate for a graduation ceremony, consistent with dress code requirements for girls.
But just days prior to the graduation ceremony, L.B. was informed by the school’s principal, Kelly Fuller, that, at the request of Superintendent Mitchell King, she — and any other transgender students in the district — would be required to dress according to their assigned sex at birth.
For L.B., that would mean she’d be required to wear a white button-down shirt, black dress pants, black shoes, and a tie or bowtie.
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Mississippi have sued the district, arguing that the policy violates the rights of transgender students.
Specifically, they argue that the dress code requirements for graduation violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment; Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational settings; and L.B.’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
“L.B.’s expression of her identity and social and political beliefs through her choice of clothing constitutes protected speech and form of expression under the First Amendment,” the lawsuit argues.
L.B.’s lawyers also noted that she has previously worn dresses to classes and extracurricular events throughout her school career, including to a prom last year — without incident.
But Wynn Clark, an attorney for the Harrison County School Board, argued in court filings that participating in graduation was voluntary and not a constitutionally protected right, reports Reuters.
Linda Morris, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, denounced McNeel’s decision in an email to Reuters.
“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,” Morris wrote. “No one should be forced to miss their graduation because of their gender.”
The lawsuit comes at a time when transgender rights are being undermined or rolled back by Republican-led legislative bodies and governors who are seeking to ban expressions of LGBTQ visibility or gender-nonconformity — especially concerning transgender youth.
This year, Mississippi lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills seeking to restrict LGBTQ rights in some manner or fashion, including a bill signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves that would punish doctors who prescribe gender-affirming treatments to transgender youth. In 2021, Reeves signed another law banning transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that don’t match their gender identity at birth.
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