Metro Weekly

Trans Student Files Complaint Over School Dress Code

The Mississippi student alleges her school district's rigid dress code is discriminatory and traffics in sex-based stereotypes.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of A.H., a 16-year-old student at Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi, and her mother, Kimberly Hudson. 

According to the complaint, the high school’s principal told A.H. that she couldn’t wear a dress to a band event, stating she “can’t represent our school dressed like that” and threatening to suspend her if she didn’t wear pants. 

Even though the student pleaded to be allowed to participate in the band event, she was reportedly told to ask her mother to bring “boys’ clothes” or risk being excluded.

The school’s dress code was amended last year to require students to “follow the dress attire consistent with their biological sex.”

The ACLU’s complaint argues that the district’s sex-based distinctions in the dress code discriminate against girls specifically, perpetuate harmful gender-based stereotypes, and exclude students who refuse to conform to traditional gender norms from full participation in school activities.

It also claims that the dress code violates Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding and asks the Education Department to investigate the policy and take steps to ensure that students in the district aren’t being subjected to sex-based discrimination.

“I’m deeply concerned about the discriminatory practices within Harrison County School District that have unfairly targeted my daughter, along with other students,” Hudson said in a statement. “Transgender and gender nonconforming students should not be forced to choose between participating in school events or remaining true to their gender identity.”

She also urged the district to proactively revise its dress code policies to be more inclusive.

“A.H.’s story is emblematic of other girls at Harrison County School District who have complained of the discriminatory dress code and hostile learning environment for LGBTQ+ students,” McKenna Raney-Gray, a staff attorney for the LGBTQ Justice Project of the ACLU of Mississippi, said in a statement. 

“HCSD has implemented sex-specific dress code policies that reinforce harmful sex stereotypes and create an environment where students are unfairly targeted and subjected to discriminatory enforcement practices,” Raney-Gray added. “This has resulted in the loss of valuable class time, exclusion from school-sponsored events, and significant emotional distress for A.H. and other affected students.”

“Harrison County School District’s dress code forces students to follow rigid, binary sex stereotypes or risk being punished and excluded from school and extracurricular activities,” Liza Davis, a Skadden Fellow at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement.

“Sex-specific dress code policies that require students to dress according to their sex assigned at birth are harmful to all students, and especially transgender and gender-nonconforming students who seek to dress in alignment with their gender identity and expression.”

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