Graduations and Yearbooks
The overarching theme in the creation of safe environments for LGBTQ individuals is equal protection and equity. Just as we don’t allow insults or inequity for racial minority groups, it is our professional, ethical and legal responsibility as school staff to not allow insults or inequity based on sexual minority groups.
Some students who are gender nonconforming, or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender may want to wear gender nonconforming attire to school or to the prom. Schools are permitted to have a dress code, but it must be enforced equally among all students, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The law states that a student has a free speech “right” to express their gender identity through clothes so long as the clothes are not significantly disruptive (Doe v. Yunits, No. 00-1060-A, 2000 Mass. Super. LEXIS 491 (Mass. Super. Ct. Oct. 11, 2000.) The disruption must be significant and objectively provable to other people. Clothing can not be qualified as “significantly disruptive” just because a teacher or administrator personally considers the message to be offensive.
Federal courts have held that any policy or action excluding same-sex couples from proms and dances, as well as any policy adopted as a pretext for such discrimination, violates students’ rights to free expression and association as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Fricke v. Lynch, 491 F. Supp. 381, 382 (D.R. I. 1980). A school may set general dress standards for prom, such as the requirement of formal attire. A school must not dictate, however that only biological males may wear tuxedos and biological females may wear dresses. As well, a school may set general dress standards for yearbook photos and graduation but must be attentive to dictating specific gender conforming clothing requirements that can be pretext for discrimination. (Logan v. Gary Cmty. Sch. Corp., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79390, **10-11 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 25, 2008).
There are students who may want to wear T-shirts or accessories expressing a positive LGBT message. Restrictions on messages are permissible as long as they are enforced uniformly among all students and viewpoints. How the message is interpreted must be viewed through the lens of if it is significantly disruptive and objectively provable to other people. It is important to not allow preconceptions about orientation, gender identity or expression to unfairly influence a decision about what a person may wear in school.