Missouri School District Revises Anti-Gay Prom Policy After Student Protests

Earlier this week, Stacy Dawson asked administrators at the Scott County Central School District if he could bring his boyfriend to prom. The school district shot him down, citing a line in the student handbook that can be interpreted to bar same-sex couples from attending the prom:

The handbook states, “High school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls.”

“Prom is an important milestone in high school, and I would be devastated if I’m not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend,” Dawson said. “It isn’t fair that a school can randomly disregard students’ rights because it doesn’t agree with who you want to take to prom.”

Stacy Dawson

The Southern Poverty Law Center immediately threatened legal action against the school district, calling the handbook policy unconstitutional and a violation of Dawson’s right to free expression:

“Denying Stacy’s right to bring his boyfriend to prom is blatantly discriminatory and in violation of his constitutional rights,” said Alesdair Ittelson, staff attorney for the SPLC. “This unlawful policy reminds us that anti-gay sentiment still serves as a platform for schools to deny the rights of same-sex couples. We call upon the school district to end this unconstitutional policy and recognize Stacy’s rights without further delay.”

Luckily, no lawsuit was necessary. School district superintendent Alvin McFerren told the Associated Press that the handbook policy, adopted 10 or 15 years ago “for an innocent reason,” would be revised:

McFerren said the line was simply aimed at trying to stop students from cheating on the entry cost of prom and other dances — by going as a “couple,” they were saving a few bucks since the couples’ rate was less expensive than two individual fees.

“When I found out the real, true, innocent reason, we wanted to get that kind of thing corrected,” McFerren said.

The news comes the same week a group of students and faculty in Indiana made headlines fighting for a separate prom that would ban gay students. The SPLC reportedly hasn’t spoken with the Missouri school district superintendent yet to confirm the good news, but all are cautiously optimistic.

“If it is indeed true that the policy has been permanently changed, it represents a big step forward for LGBT students in a part of the country that frequently lacks community support for students like Stacy,” Ittelson said. “We applaud Stacy’s bravery in standing up for his rights.”

So do we — hopefully, this will inspire other gay or lesbian students to stand up in the face of this sort of discrimination, too, intentional or not.

(Thanks to @enterprise1705 for the link!)

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • Anon

    Why not the main point of the post, I still dislike the district policy. Why should the couple’s rate be less than two singles? Not like there is any cost savings or bulk purchase incentives. Frustrating and penalising those who want to participate but without a date.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I hardly think that the “main point” of the article is that couples have the advantage of a discounted rate compared to those going without a date. I think that is a valid point, worthy of the district reconsidering, but it is not even close to being the “main point” of an article about a policy that was being interpreted to explicitly forbid a subgroup of students from bringing the person they are dating.

    EDIT: in re-reading your post, Anon, I wonder if the first word was supposed to be “while” instead of “why”, in which case you would have been acknowledging that the discount is not the main point, rather than pleading that the discount is the main point.

  • http://www.kungfu-silat.com/ Erik Harris

    The post’s title mentions student protests, but there’s nothing in the post itself about any protests. Instead, the post says that when the superintendent found out, he demanded that the policy be revised. Which is it?

  • Anon

    Yes, this was my error. I did mean “main”.
    The bigger issue definitely is the potential discrimination averted.

  • Anon

    I mean that I did mean “While not the main point”.
    I am having a rather error prone day…

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    You’re right about the difference in per-person rates for singles & couples. It is a form of discrimination against singles. But in fact it’s a common practice in the hospitality industry, including community events of all sorts. For instance, a fund-raising wine tasting last night in a nearby town was priced $20 for one or $35 per couple.

    This issue goes FAR beyond just the Scott Cty school district prom. Maybe it should be taken on, but to do change it would require a fairly massive movement, and I doubt that would ever happen. Unfortunately.

  • Ibis3

    I think Hemant meant “policy is revised after a student protests,” not “policy is revised after a bunch of students protest more than once”.

  • 7Footpiper

    And to be honest, I just don’t see the point of whining about it, since going to an event single I’m already saving money and I’m not being discriminated against. If I was barred from an event as a single guy, then perhaps that’s discrimination. All that’s being offered here is a slight discount for a couple, which should be of any persuasion.

    Where does it stop? Family theme parks aren’t allowed to charge less for families? child and adult admission is the same price?

  • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

    If by “Hemant” you mean “Camille,” I think you’re probably right.

  • allein

    I suppose having a couple’s rate encourages more people to come to something like that, which might not generally come with the expectation of having a “date,” necessarily. Something like a school prom usually includes the expectation of having a date, anyway. I don’t recall my prom having a separate rate for couples; it was just whatever the price was per ticket; granted that was about 20 years (!) ago . (And really, is it so terrible that kids might want to save some money on what is generally a rather expensive evening? Seems kind of petty reasoning on the school’s part. If they really want to discourage that sort of thing, then just making it a flat rate per ticket would make more sense.)
    But good on them for realizing the implications of the policy and fixing it.

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    “Student protests” can mean either a single student protests or the whole student body protests. In this caee, if it weren’t for Stacy, the student, protesting his date’s exclusion, the superintendant wouldn’t have known about the issue.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    this reminds me of my prom in my jr year. my gay friends and i wanted to attend, but knew that we’d have to pretend and go as straight couples, the gay men paired up with a lesbian. it was a very strict school and i’m sure if the boys had danced with each other like they would’ve preferred, we’d have been kicked out and disciplined by the headmaster.

    good to see times are changing. have fun, Stacy and date!

  • 00001000_bit

    It isn’t necessarily just as simple as a “slight discount for a couple.” The article doesn’t state it, but if the boyfriend is from a different school, unless he is allowed as the “guest” of the student from the school throwing the prom, he usually wouldn’t just be able to purchase a “singles” ticket of his own. So, in effect, this prevents the student from going with the date of their choice regardless of cost.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    I’m sure the school doesn’t require people buying a “couples” pair of tickets to buy them together. It’s more like a movie theater than a marriage license bureau.

  • fsm

    I don’t care how ‘innocent’ the policy was when drafted. How did this policy stop kids from taking a sister or a cousin to avoid the extra fee? It was discriminatory then and they knew it.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Hang on a second, Superintendent McFerren. Your remarks are about the line in the handbook that was put in there “for an innocent reason and was never meant to discriminate,” being about regulating the fee for singles or couples attending the prom.

    You do not seem to be directly addressing the person or persons who deliberately used that line to discriminate. What are you doing about their behavior, and the backward and intolerant mentality that their behavior represents which is widespread in your educational system?

    Changing one line in a handbook is not nearly sufficient. Take assertive and effective actions to reeducate your educators.

  • Johann

    Frankly, I don’t believe the superintendent’s explanation at all. The policy still let friends of different genders “cheat” on the ticket price, and there are other policies that would have addressed the issue more effectively if that was their real concern – like requiring students to notify the school about the identity of their guest well ahead of time.

    Plus, if the stated explanation was the “real, true, innocent reason” behind this policy, it’s a mighty fine coincidence that this was put into place right around the time when the notion that gay teens have rights too was starting to make some headway, and Gay-Straight Alliance high school clubs were becoming common – and not, say, at any other time during the school’s existence since its opening in 1904.

    I wouldn’t expect much momentum for reeducation there.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Cool. No problem….. that’s what I thought when I re-read your posting. I find typos in my own postings all the time. Peace.

  • Kengi

    So, one day the administrator says there is no way they would even consider revising the policy. The day after the SPLC threatens to sue he suddenly realizes the policy needs changing for “innocent” reasons.

    Yeah. Right. I completely believe that one. :-/

  • Erp

    Actually if it was 15 years ago, that precedes the GSA which started in 1998/99 school year (and in San Francisco area not Missouri). The speed of the change in attitudes towards gays and lesbians has been astonishing. I very much doubt that 15 years ago students in Missouri would have dared show up at a prom as a gay or lesbian couple (remember this was before the sodomy laws were ruled null and void in 2003) though friends of the same sex may well have bought couples’ tickets to avoid the singles’ penalty (and some school or prom bureaucrat tried to stop that in order to keep the revenue flowing or prevent the overcount of ‘real’ couples for parades, picture taking, etc.).