Alabama School Reverses Decision To Bar Lesbian Student From Attending Prom With Her Girlfriend

November 20, 2009

RUSSELLVILLE, AL – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded Franklin County School System officials for reversing their decision barring a lesbian student from attending the school prom with her girlfriend.

The School System’s about-face, permitting 17-year-old Tharptown High School junior Cynthia Stewart to bring her girlfriend to the upcoming March 25 prom, came after the ACLU sent a letter to the school on November 10 demanding that their initial decision be reversed.

"All I wanted all along was to be myself and have a fun night at prom like any other student," said Stewart. "Prom’s going to be amazing, and I can’t wait to walk in that door with my girlfriend on my arm."

Stewart, a member of the prom planning committee, who personally raised over $200 for the event and created the theme her classmates chose for it, was told by her principal earlier this month that she would not be allowed to bring her girlfriend to the dance.

Stewart's aunt and guardian, Kathy Baker, approached ACLU of Alabama board member and local attorney Henry F. Sherrod III for assistance after the school board turned down her appeal of the principal's decision. Some teachers announced in classes that prom was being canceled altogether as a way to avoid having to let Cynthia bring her date.

"It’s unfortunate that we had to step in to remind this school of its constitutional obligations to its students, but we’re pleased that they’re finally doing the right thing," said Sherrod. "Schools should treat all students equally, and not have a separate set of rules for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students."

In its letter to Franklin County School System officials, the ACLU cited cases both in Alabama state court and federal court guaranteeing students' First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to school dances.

"Schools everywhere would do well to take note of this school’s decision to obey Federal law and not discriminate against students who want to bring same-sex dates to school dances," said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, who represents Stewart along with Sherrod. "By standing up for herself, Cynthia Stewart has stood up for LGBT students all over the country."

Additional information, including a short video about Stewart’s story and a copy of the school’s letter, is available at https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/russellville-alabama-school-prom-discrimination.

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