Transgender student who sued over graduation dress code tells her story
HARRISON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX/Gray News) - A transgender student from Mississippi is speaking out after her legal fight over her high school’s graduation dress code made national headlines.
The 17-year-old student, identified as “L.B.,” said she was called to the Harrison Central High School principal’s office two weeks ago for what she refers to as an “unexpected” warning. She was told as a transgender student who was registered with the school as a male, she must adhere to the boys’ dress code for graduation, including a white button-down shirt, a tie and black pants.
Before the warning, L.B. and her mother, Samantha Brown, assumed that because the teenager identifies as female and had previously worn dresses to class and other school events, she would be able to wear a dress and high heels to graduation, and she intended to do so.
“When we looked at that policy, under our impression, my daughter identifies as female every day of her life. She dresses in feminine clothing every day of her life,” Brown said.
Brown told WLOX that the high school staff has always been supportive of L.B.’s feminine attire – until Harrison County School District Superintendent Mitchell King ordered the dress code to be strictly enforced this year.
“He also said that the kids needed to have on their ‘Sunday best.’ How is her wearing her dress not her Sunday best?” Brown asked.
The family decided to take the issue to federal court, claiming discrimination by the school district, but a U.S. District Court judge ruled against L.B., saying the 17-year-old was registered with the school as a male.
“Me going to graduation in what they asked me to wear would be me telling them that it’s OK, and it’s not. It would just feel like I was shadowed and tainted by bigotry, hate,” L.B. said. “My graduation, it’s the start of a new life, a better life.”
She sat the Saturday ceremony out, saying she felt humiliated by district officials.
“It’s really emotional for me, you know, because this is an experience that we’ll never be able to get back, ever,” Brown said.
As it turned out, L.B. wasn’t the only student who didn’t walk at graduation because of the dress code policy. At the ceremony, Jai Dallas was pulled from the lineup just moments before receiving her diploma.
Caren Dallas, Jai’s mother, says a supervisor told her daughter that she could not wear black pants underneath her gown.
“She tells her that she can take her pants off and walk the stage, but she needed white shoes. So, she could walk in her underwear, but she can’t walk in pants,” an emotional Caren Dallas said. “This is something that she achieved, you know, that she worked hard for.”
Jai Dallas’ family members were outraged that her attire was not addressed during the hours-long rehearsal.
“Several adults told her that her attire was OK, and they waited. She’s been here since 4 o’clock. Why didn’t nobody say anything?” said her aunt, Rasheedah Jackson.
Her grandmother, Michelle Faison, traveled 800 miles to see her graduate.
“I don’t understand how this, a moment this important, can be taken away from a child that’s worked 12 years to get here,” Faison said.
Her sister, Raniah Braclet, graduated from Harrison Central three years ago and said she can’t believe what’s happening.
“When I graduated, I was proud to come from Harrison Central, but I just don’t know what this is today,” she said. “That was a very awful experience to see my sister not be able to graduate from where I graduated from.”
Caren Dallas says she plans to be at her daughter’s school first thing Monday morning in search of answers.
As for L.B., she says she’ll never stop fighting for what she feels is right.
WLOX contacted King for comment on the issues Sunday.
“We followed the graduation policy of the Harrison County School District,” he said.
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