Volume 3, Number 35 - November 26, 2003
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Same-sex date issue arrives at No. 9 dance
After two girls were marched out of a high school homecoming dance by police, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter on Thursday to school officials demanding that they allow same-sex couples to attend school dances.
"I couldn't believe that our school was so threatened by the idea of two girls going to the homecoming together that they had police officers waiting for us," said Amanda Blair, a senior at Big Piney High School, in an ACLU press release. Blair added, "It's really sad that this is the kind of attitude that lesbian and gay students at my school will face when they want to bring a date to a school dance."
Blair, an honor student who participates in swimming, band, basketball, track and choir, had listed a female friend as her homecoming date when she signed up for the Sept. 12 dance. School officials told her that same-sex dates aren't allowed at dances. Blair is heterosexual, but she and her friend decided to attend together in order to help lesbian and gay students in her district who may want to bring dates to school dances in the future. When Blair and her date arrived at the dance the next evening, they were met by local police officers, who then escorted them off the premises without any explanation.
"Too many schools don't understand that students have a Constitutional right to take a same-sex date to events like homecoming and prom," said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project of the ACLU. "Amanda and her date were illegally prevented from doing the same things that other couples attending a school dance do - seeing their friends, getting their picture taken, and having a fun evening."
In a letter sent to Sublette County District No. 9 officials, the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and the ACLU of Wyoming demanded that the illegal policy be lifted, citing a 1980 federal case in Rhode Island. In that case, a federal judge ruled that students who want to bring same-sex dates to school dances are not only protected under the free expression provisions of the First Amendment, but that schools must take steps to ensure their safety when they do bring same-sex dates to school dances. In the 23 years since Fricke v. Lynch was decided, students throughout the U.S. have brought same-sex dates to school dances without incident.
"Our family is outraged that Amanda was treated like a common criminal just for trying to take who she wanted to the dance," said Kris Blair, Amanda's mother, in the same press release. She added, "I'm proud that my daughter is standing up for the rights of her gay and lesbian friends. Gay students in our town should not have to face this kind of humiliation in the future."
In an interview Monday, SCSD No. 9 Superintendent Weldon Shelley said that the school board doesn't have an official policy addressing the issue: "There never has been one."
Shelley said there has been a practice in the district for about 17 years addressing out-of-town guests for dances, but that was because the district would get too many boys or too many girls from out of town and there were behavioral problems.
The practice really wasn't in place to address same-sex dates, Shelley said, "It had nothing to do with gay and lesbian issues. It has very, very seldom been an issue.
"It's really past practice and there was nothing in writing," Shelley said. Regardless, "It's not an issue anymore."
Shelley said the past practice has been discontinued, as of about a month ago, and now, if a BPHS girl wants to bring a female date, "she's welcome to."
Shelley said the district has apologized to the students involved in this incident and said he doesn't know why the ACLU issued a press release about the issue this late into the entire incident.
Kris Blair said in an interview that no one associated with the school board or the school has apologized to Amanda. She said the nature of the action taken against the young women, having the police turn them away from the dance, is what was appalling.
"I felt it was really uncalled for," Kris said, adding that Amanda decided this should never happen to anyone again, so she wanted to take action.
"It was Amanda's decision," Kris said. "We told her if she wanted to proceed with it, we'd back her 100 percent."
What the Blairs wanted were two things, Kris said: a change in the policy and an apology.
"I'm sorry it had to come to the point it did," Kris said, adding that her family has chosen not to pursue any legal action, although the parents of Amanda's date may take legal action.
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