Court upholds school district policy not allowing transgender student to wear dress to graduation

Federal Judge rules in favor of Harrison County School District in graduation dress code policy.
Published: May. 20, 2023 at 3:26 AM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Late Friday night, U.S. District Court Judge Taylor McNeel denied a Harrison County transgender student’s request for a temporary relief order from the court.

The 17-year-old student, identified as “L.B.” in court to protect her identity, wanted to wear a dress and high heels to the Harrison Central High School graduation scheduled for Saturday. However, the school’s dress code required male student graduates to wear a button down white shirt, tie, black pants and black shoes to the ceremony.

Attorneys for the ACLU filed the lawsuit in Federal Court on Thursday with the hopes of a quick ruling which would have allowed L.B. to wear a dress to graduation. Judge McNeel ruled the plaintiff’s case did not meet the standard to grant what he called “extraordinary relief in changing the status quo in a short time period.”

McNeel said in this case, he interpreted the status quo as the school district’s decision to follow the district’s dress code policy. In making the ruling, McNeel said cases involving dress codes involving transgender individuals are limited and similar cases didn’t exist.

The hearing started at 3:30 p.m. at the Federal Courthouse and didn’t conclude until 11:30 p.m. The court heard testimony from L.B., L.B’s mother and Harrison County School District Superintendent Mitchell King.

L.B. testified she had worn dresses to classes and other school events throughout all four years of her high school career and had been referred to by other students and staff as a female. Based on previous experiences, she said she expected to be able to wear a dress to the graduation ceremony. She and her mother said they signed a commencement participation agreement in March that outlined the graduation dress code policy. After signing the agreement L.B. said she purchased the outfit she intended to wear to graduation.

In King’s testimony, he stated he felt it was his responsibility to enforce the school’s graduation dress code policy and in this case the student wearing a dress would violate the policy. King said at an earlier event, he saw a young man wearing a dress and that led him to look at the policy. He then called the principals at Harrison Central, West Harrison and D’Iberville High Schools and asked them to identify students who might be suspected of breaking the dress code. According to King, 4 students in the district, including L.B., were suspected of not intending to follow the dress code policy.

On May 9th, L.B. said she was called into the principal’s office and told if she wore a dress she wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremonies.

L.B. testified, “If I wasn’t going to wear a dress, I wasn’t going to go. I was shocked, sickened and never expected it. I assumed I would be allowed to.”

Both L.B. and her mother stated in court that she had been officially registered as a male during the four years she attended Harrison Central.

The Harrison Central High School graduation is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

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