A transgender girl in Mississippi did not attend her high school graduation ceremony Saturday because school officials told her to dress like a boy, and a federal judge did not block the officials’ decision, a lawyer for the girl’s family said.
Linda Morris, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project, said the ruling handed down late Friday by federal judge Taylor McNeel in the Mississippi city of Gulfport “is as disappointing as it is absurd.”
“Our client is being shamed and humiliated for explicitly discriminatory reasons, and her family is being denied a once-in-a-lifetime milestone in their daughter’s life,” Morris said. “No one should be forced to miss their graduation because of their gender.”
The ACLU confirmed that the 17-year-old girl – listed in court papers only by her initials, LB – would skip Saturday’s ceremony at Harrison Central high school in Gulfport, about 160 miles (260 km) south of Jackson and 80 miles (129 km) east for New Orleans.
The student “has met the qualifications to receive a diploma,” according to the local public school district’s attorney, Wynn Clark.
The ACLU sued the district Thursday on behalf of the student and her parents after Harrison Central Principal Kelly Fuller and school district Superintendent Mitchell King told LB that she must follow the boys’ dress code. Graduating boys are expected to wear white shirts and black pants, and girls are expected to wear white dresses.
LB had chosen a dress to wear with his cap and gown. The lawsuit said LB had worn dresses to classes and extracurricular events throughout high school, including to a prom last year, and she should not face discriminatory treatment during graduation.
King told LB’s mother that the teenager could not attend the graduation ceremony unless LB wore “pants, socks and shoes, like a boy,” according to the lawsuit.
Clark wrote in court papers Friday that attending a graduation ceremony is voluntary and not a constitutionally protected right for any student.
Mississippi is among the US states that have pursued a flurry of restrictions on transgender youth medical treatment, sports participation and bathroom use. Earlier this year, the state’s conservative governor, Tate Reeves, signed a bill that would ban health care providers from providing both hormone therapy and surgical procedures to transgender minors.
Such gender-affirming care is medically necessary and potentially life-saving for children and adults diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
At the time the bill was signed, Reeves said the law indicated to children that they are “beautiful the way they are” and don’t need to “take drugs and cut themselves up with expensive surgeries to find freedom from depression”.