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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Senior girl pushes back, allowed to get dressed up, in tux, for prom

Belinda Sanchez, 18, fought administrators at Proviso East
High School to wear a tuxedo to prom.

A senior at Proviso East High School, Belinda Sanchez hopes to one day become a civil rights attorney. On Thursday, the 18-year-old got her first taste of victory, winning the right to wear a tuxedo to her upcoming senior prom.

Sanchez was initially told by the Maywood school's principal, Milton Patch, that she could not wear a tuxedo to her prom and needed to wear a dress.

"I was just shocked," Sanchez said.

Sanchez, a lesbian, said has been open about her sexuality since freshman year. She said the school has an active gay-straight alliance and it is very supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

She wound up contacting the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois over the prom situation. On Wednesday, the group sent a letter to the school district backing her position.

"This sends a negative message to other students that they can't express who they are," said John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project at the ACLU. "It's a First Amendment right, a free speech right, and that includes her right to send a message through wearing male clothing that she doesn't think women should be restricted to traditional female clothing."

On Thursday, the Proviso Township school district sent a response to Knight saying that Sanchez will be allowed to wear a tuxedo to the prom, on April 22.

District spokeswoman TaQuoya Kennedy said the decision to allow the teen to wear a tuxedo was actually made at the end of last week, well before the ACLU got involved.

Kennedy said Sanchez asked the district to reconsider the principal's original decision last Thursday and a decision to allow her to wear what she wanted was made Friday. Kennedy said that because it was the beginning of the school's break, the principal had not been able to let Sanchez know that she could wear the tuxedo.

In an email to the Tribune, Kennedy wrote that Sanchez has opened "up a new, very interesting and healthy dialogue in terms of our prom review procedures. We support our students in all of their differences and we encourage them to express themselves in various ways as long as it is not disruptive to the school environment. The principal gave his initial determination based on his interpretation of the policy, and the student asked that it be reconsidered. After looking into the policy — it was."

Sanchez was, of course, delighted by the decision. She had already picked out a stylish white tuxedo with a black bow tie, and now she knows she'll be able to wear it at the main event of her senior year.

"I'm happy," she said. "I didn't just stand up for myself. I did this for everyone who's in a position like I'm in."

Sitting on the couch at her home in Melrose Park, Sanchez let out a laugh: "It's like a fairy tale gone totally fairy."


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