Two members of the school board overseeing the Louisiana principal who reportedly told a gay teenager she couldn't wear a tuxedo to prom vowed Monday to rectify the situation before the dance. Monroe County School Board President Rodney McFarland and Vice President Brenda Shelling said Claudetteia Love should be allowed to dress however she wants. Any decisions to the contrary, they said, should be considered discrimination. "You can't just make up rules as you go," McFarland said.
Claudetteia's story went viral this past weekend after the News-Star reported her decision to skip the prom over the tuxedo issue. The honor student's mother told the News-Star that Carroll High School Principal Patrick Taylor had rejected Claudetteia's request after faculty members threatened to pull out of chaperoning. " 'Girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that's the way it is,' " her mom quoted Taylor as saying.
— Michael Del Moro (@MikeDelMoro) April 6, 2015
In 2009, a 17-year-old girl sued Indiana's Lebanon High School after administrators told her she couldn't wear a tuxedo to prom. A year later in Mississippi, the Itawamba County school district canceled the prom after a female student asked to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend as a date. A judge ruled that although the school was allowed to cancel the event entirely, it had violated the girl’s First Amendment rights. In 2011, Proviso East High School in Chicago had to reverse its decision preventing a girl from wearing a tuxedo after the American Civil Liberties Union got involved.
These cases are distressing, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco. She said schools' knee-jerk decisions can indicate to students that who they are is objectionable, and that's a violation of the protective role administrators are supposed to play.
"I'm hoping for the spring season, some year in the not-too-distant future, where we will not have a story like this," Kendell said.
McFarland, a bishop at the Greater Free Gift Baptist Church in Monroe, said he put his religious beliefs aside to advocate for Claudetteia because it is his job as a school board member to ensure fair treatment for all students. “I’m not the pastor of the school board,” McFarland said, adding that he’d received only two negative emails about his support of Claudetteia. "We've got to do what's right, and what is right is to allow this young lady to wear whatever she so desires to her senior prom."
Shelling said she was concerned that Claudetteia and her family didn't approach the school board with the problem directly. Regardless, she said, there's no rule forbidding the senior from wearing a tuxedo -- just as there's no policy that prohibits males from wearing dresses. "We all realize that we do have gay and lesbian students in our school district," Shelling said. "What's the issue? As anywhere, we do not single students out because of their choice of who they want to be or who they are."
Taylor and Vidrine did not return requests for comment Monday. Louisiana is considering a religious freedom bill like the one recently passed in Indiana that allows businesses to refuse service to gay weddings.