A Mississippi judge ruled in favor of a school district that told a transgender girl she must dress as a boy in order to attend her high school graduation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Harrison County School District on behalf of the student and her parents after Harrison Central principal Kelly Fuller and school district superintendent Mitchell King allegedly told the girl, who has not been identified publicly, that she must dress in male-presenting attire at the graduation ceremony, despite the fact she is a transgender girl.
U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeel in Gulfport on Friday sided with the school district, denying the ACLU’s complaint, according to court documents. McNeel was appointed to his position by former President Donald Trump, a Republican who has spoken out against transgender rights in the past.
The ruling comes as schools across the country find themselves at the center of the debate about how transgender minors should be treated.
LGBTQ+ advocates say schools should respect students’ gender identity, and that policies should be enacted to protect the rights of transgender youth. Conservatives, on the other hand, have passed laws targeting transgender rights, including gender-affirming care for those under the age of 18. According to the ACLU, at least 490 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced to state legislatures this year.
The 17-year-old student, identified only by her initials L.B., was told she could not participate in her graduation while wearing a dress and heeled shoes, according to the complaint filed by the ACLU. Instead, school district officials said she must wear a white button-down shirt, black dress pants, black dress shoes, and either a tie or bowtie.
The complaint wrote that, despite the student and her parents voicing their opposition to the school district’s restrictions, officials “refused to back down from their last-minute” decision. The student has worn dresses and skirts throughout her high school experience, including in classes and at school-sponsored events and extracurricular activities, the complaint added.
“Defendants have offered no rationale that could justify the severe and ongoing
deprivation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional and statutory rights to be free from gender
discrimination,” the complaint reads.
Newsweek reached out to the Harrison County School District and the ACLU for comment via email.
As a result of the ruling, the student will no longer be participating in her graduation ceremony, according to the Associated Press. Linda Morris, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told the AP the decision “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.”
According to the AP, the school district’s attorney Wynn Clark argued in defense of the district that taking part in the ceremony is voluntary and not constitutionally protected for any student.