Two lesbian students in Minnesota, Desiree ("Dez") Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, were chosen by fellow students in Champlin Park High School to be part of the court for the annual Snow Days winter formal. But the school, which is part of the Anoka-Hennepin School District that has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to curb anti-LGBT bullying, changed its school dance policy to prevent the two from entering the event as the couple they are.
In past years, the royal court entered the dance in procession, walking in pairs, and members of the court could choose their partners. Typically, couples who were girlfriend and boyfriend entered together.
According to a letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre & Benson, LLP, to the school and the district yesterday, though, "CPHS told Desiree and Sarah they could not walk together, solely because both girls are of the same sex. When Desiree and Sarah persisted in their request, CPHS responded by informing them on Thursday, January 27, 2011, that it would cancel the traditional processional part of the assembly entirely and the Pep Fest and Coronation would begin with the student royalty already seated."
The school later modified this to say that students would be entering one by one; the organizations say the discriminatory effect is the same. They say the school has violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or sexual orientation, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the equal protection provision of the Minnesota Constitution, and the First Amendment, "which protects the rights of students to bring same-sex dates to school-sponsored events." They draw a parallel between this case and that of Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen who last year successfully challenged her high school's ban on attending prom with a same-sex date.
The organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against the district and school, along with an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District -- the largest in the state -- saw nine students, at least three of whom were LGBT, commit suicide last year. Tammy Aaberg, the mother of one of the students, has said the school's "neutrality policy" of not allowing discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom creates a "bad climate" for gay students.
Seems like the Snow Days dance isn't doing much to change the weather.
One bit of sunshine elsewhere in the country, however, is the successful resolution of a lawsuit against Gary School Corporation in Gary, Indiana, brought by transgender former student K.K. Logan. Logan was barred from her high school prom in 2006 because she wore a dress. Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Logan, said the matter was settled for an undisclosed amount, and includes revisions to the school district's dress code and non-discrimination policies so they now include specific protections for LGBT students. The school district also agreed to conduct training for the administration and school board members on LGBT and respectful treatment of LGBT people.
petition text -
Let Desiree and Sarah Enter the Snow Days Dance Together
I am writing to ask you to allow the royal court for the Snow Days winter formal to enter the dance in paired procession, with court members choosing their own partners as is traditional. This includes Desiree ("Dez") Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, a lesbian couple who were chosen for the court by fellow students.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District has acquired a reputation for being less than welcoming to lesbian and gay students. For Desiree and Sarah to be open about their relationship was an act of great personal courage. They should be allowed all of the honors accorded to royal court members in years past, including the right to choose their processional partners.
Rather than make this event into a cause of contention, I hope you will instead choose to use it as an opportunity to show what diversity and respect really mean.
[Your name here]