Monday, March 16, 2009

Prom Fashion Fray

At this time of year, the thoughts of high school seniors all across America turn toward the prom. How do I rent a tux? Can Mom afford that dress I want? Is the guy I like going to be a total jerk and ask a freshman instead? Will I win my lawsuit?

Okay, that one isn't so common. But it's very much a concern for a 17-year-old lesbian student at Lebanon High School in central Indiana. The senior is suing the school district for the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom.

Wow. The closest I came to a prom-related legal struggle was considering charging my date, his Triumph convertible, and the wind with a wrongful pre-prom assault on my coif.

This youngster in Indiana, whose name hasn't been revealed, knows herself a lot better than I did at her age. Her school principal told her she couldn't wear a tux to the prom, and she must wear a dress. She responded by calling in the American Civil Liberties Union. By God and Calvin Klein, she's fighting for what she wants!

Indystar.com reported that court papers say the blossoming lesbian doesn't wear dresses because she feels they express a sexual identity that she doesn't embrace.

I wonder if such sentiments caused a collective Hoosier heart attack. After all, the school district's longstanding policy on prom attire—only boys may wear tuxedos, and girls must wear dresses—had never been challenged.

Now the ACLU of Indiana is arguing that the policy violates the federal Title lX law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in schools. The group also claims the policy violates her constitutional right of free speech. "From a First Amendment standpoint, wearing a tuxedo makes an affirmative statement about her own sexuality," said her lawyer.

It can look pretty hot, too, but I doubt anybody mentioned that in the court filings.

The head of the American Family Association of Indiana said he supports the principal's decision because it reflects the community's standards.

No doubt. In those rigid standards lies the problem. As unfortunate as a stinkweed corsage.

"I don't think we should allow kids to act out certain impulses," said the AFA guy. "A girl in a tuxedo doing this as a sexual statement, that's something the school should draw the line at."

Maybe if she said she was doing this as a fashion statement, he'd approve. She could claim bow ties are slimming.

This isn't Indiana's first rumpus over prom garb. In 1999 a male high school senior in Indianapolis successfully sued to wear a dress to the event. In 2006 a transgender student in Gary was denied entry to the prom for wearing an evening gown; Kevin "K.K." Logan's lawsuit is pending.

None of the accounts I read of the Lebanon High School senior's battle mentioned whether she has a date for the prom. Does she have a girlfriend? Is she planning to ask someone to accompany her? Is she expecting to go alone or with friends?

If she has a date, the federal court better get moving. The prom is April 25. The girls will have precious little time to coordinate colors!

The lesbian has a sensible classmate by the name of DeAmber Jaggers who told Indystar.com that she suspects the school made its decision due to the girl's orientation.

"What bothers me is that you won't let someone wear something conservative, but you'll let girls go with see-through parts of their outfits or something short," said Jaggers. "A tuxedo's not hurting anybody. Why should it matter?"

Personally, I've come to agree with the school district that not just anybody can wear a tux. I say an individual who wants to wear one must first be able to spell "cummerbund."