ACLU Calls School's Actions Unconstitutional
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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RUSSELLVILLE, AL – The American Civil Liberties Union today demanded that Franklin County School System officials reverse its decision that a lesbian student can’t attend the school prom with her girlfriend. Cynthia Stewart, a junior at Tharptown High School, approached the ACLU for assistance after school officials denied her request for the upcoming March 25 prom.
"I can't believe my school is doing all of this just to keep me from bringing my girlfriend to the prom," said Stewart, a 17-year-old student who, as a member of the prom planning committee, has personally raised over $200 for the prom and created the theme her classmates chose for the dance. "All I want is to be able to be myself and go to my prom with the person I love, just like any other student wants to do."
Stewart's aunt and guardian, Kathy Baker, approached ACLU of Alabama board member and local attorney Henry F. Sherrod III last week for assistance after the school announced it was cancelling the prom. Baker had approached the school board to appeal the principal's earlier decision that Stewart could not bring her girlfriend to the dance, but her plea on behalf of her niece was turned down. Some teachers told classes last Thursday that prom was being canceled altogether as a way to avoid having to let Cynthia bring her date. Finally, at least one teacher made statements to students Monday indicating that the prom is back on, but there has still been no reversal on the decision that Stewart can’t bring her girlfriend to the event.
"It's just sad to see this school twisting itself in so many different directions to avoid its constitutional obligations to one student," said Sherrod. "Cynthia doesn't just deserve to be able to take her girlfriend with her to the prom like any other student – she has a federally-protected right to do so."
In today's letter to Franklin County School System officials, the ACLU cited cases both in Alabama state court as well as federal court guaranteeing students' First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to school dances. In addition to illegally canceling the prom, the ACLU said that Tharptown High School's principal further violated Stewart's First Amendment rights by requiring her to remove a sticker she was wearing at school that read, "I'm a Lesbian." Stewart said that when she told the principal she had a First Amendment right to wear the sticker, he replied, "You don't have that much freedom of speech at school."
"Federal law makes it absolutely clear that Franklin County School System doesn't have any right to discriminate against lesbian, gay, and bisexual 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. "We hope that our telling the school about its legal obligations towards its students will make it think again about treating Cynthia Stewart like a second-class citizen."
The ACLU has given the school district until November 20 to respond to its letter.
Additional information, including a copy of the ACLU's demand letter, is available at https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/russellville-alabama-school-prom-discrimination.