A Mississippi school district is being sued after it refused to allow a transgender female student to wear a dress and high heels with a cap and gown for her high school graduation ceremony.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in federal court, demands that the Harrison County School District allow the 17-year-old senior, referred to in the lawsuit as “L.B.,” to wear what she wants during her graduation from Harrison Central High School, in Gulfport, on Saturday, May 20.
L.B.’s lawyers, from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi, noted that she had previously worn dresses to classes and extracurricular events throughout her school career, including to a prom last year — without any complaints from administrators.
But on May 9, Kelly Fuller, the principal of Harrison Central High School, told L.B. and her parents that the school would be forcing L.B. to adhere to male dress code standards, which includes wearing a white shirt, black slacks, and black shoes for graduation, rather than the white dress required of female students.
Fuller told The Associated Press that a call from her superior prompted her dress code edict, Harrison County School District Superintendent Mitchell King, who had sought information on what transgender students were wearing to graduation.
King reportedly told L.B.’s mother in a phone call that L.B. “needs to wear pants, socks, and shoes like a boy,” and repeatedly misgendered L.B. throughout the call, the lawsuit claims.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the school and school district from seeking to enforce the dress code and prohibiting L.B. from wearing a dress.
L.B.’s legal team claims that the dress code based on a person’s assigned sex at birth is discriminatory, violating 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. desires to wear a dress and heeled shoes to express peacefully her gender identity and social and political viewpoint that it is appropriate for transgender students to wear clothing items in a manner consistent with their gender identity,” the lawsuit states.
“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.”
Noting that L.B. “has lived every aspect of her high school career as a girl,” McKenna Raney-Gray, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Mississippi, condemned the school’s actions.
“L.B. should be focused on celebrating this important milestone alongside her peers; however, this targeted attack by the leaders of the Harrison County School District seeks to strip her of her right to celebrate this occasion as her true self,” Raney-Gray said in a statement.
“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 a statement.
“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.”
According to federal court records, attorneys for all parties were ordered to report to Magistrate Judge Bradley Rath’s chambers for a settlement conference.
If the case could not be resolved at that time, the parties to the lawsuit would then appear before U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel, a Donald Trump appointee, for an emergency motion on the temporary restraining order.
The latest news, according to court records, is that the issue was not resolved at the settlement conference.
A request for comment from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi was not returned as of press time.
The attorney of record for the Harrison County School District, as well as the district’s school board, King, and Fuller — who are also named as defendants in the lawsuit — was not immediately available for comment.
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