Tuscaloosa schools told: ‘Let lesbians go to prom’

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.

Demands have been made to the County Board of Education in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to respect LGBT rights after alleged cases of negligence by staff members towards a gay student.

A civil rights law firm, Southern Poverty Law Center, has written to The Tuscaloosa County Board of Education to demand that the constitutional rights of gay and trans students be upheld, according to Tuscaloosa News.

The letter specifies that the schools and school board must allow gay students to attend their proms with someone of the same sex, and that they should not “censor” the support of LGBT rights.

It states that in December 2011, a student of Brookwood High School, Elizabeth Garrett, was told by Assistant Principal, Thad Fitzpatrick, that she would not be allowed to attend her prom with another student of the same sex.

Garrett was also allegedly told by Fitzpatrick on 5 January to remove a hoody emblazoned with the words “Warning, This Individual Infected With ‘The Gay,’ Proceed With Caution,” according to the letter.

The letter said that the hoody Garret was wearing was intended as a lighthearted way of making a statement that gay people should be accepted.

The County School Board made a statement saying there was no written record of the incidents described in the letter, and no disciplinary action was taken against Garrett.

Frank Costanzo, the School Board Superintendent spoke at a press conference about the accusations.

Saying that he had spoken to the administration at Brookwood High, Costanzo said that neither the county school board, or the school, had written policy barring same sex students to attend social events together.

He also said that a student wearing a garment saying they were gay, or that they were in support of gay rights would not be in violation of the schools’ dress code because it would not constitute being “threatening” or “disrupting”.

The lead SPLC attorney, Sam Wolfe, said that Garret had been told by Fitzpatrick to take off the hoody because it was “distracting” despite the fact that it was a cold day and she only had a t-shirt on.

Wolfe also explained that Garrett had been asked by a female friend to go to the prom with her and she had agreed. She allegedly then went to speak to the vice principal to ask why they couldnt go together, but that he refused to speak to her about the issue.

The letter to the school system has set a date of 1 February, and said that the school has to stop their alleged “censorship of speech supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and its prohibition against same-sex couples at the prom.”

Wolfe says: “At Brookwood, like in too many Alabama schools, gay students and those perceived as gay face unfair treatment,”

According to the letter, legal action may be taken against the school board if the requests are not met.

Wolfe said: “Too often, gay students also face serious harassment at school. No student should be singled out for unfair treatment or be denied their basic rights at school.

Last year a school in Birmingham, Alabama backed down after telling a student she could not wear a gay rights t-shirt “for her own safety”.

Also, in 2009, another school, also in Alabama, which cancelled its prom after a lesbian student asked to bring a date reversed its decision.

Garrett said in the letter to the school board that she wants to speak out: “for others like me who feel trampled over by the school and don’t always have an opportunity to stand up for themselves.”