Sultana High School "Gender-Specific" Prom Attire Rule Provokes Legal Backlash

A California high school told its students that only "gender-specific" attire will be permitted at prom and for yearbook photos, prompting the ACLU and other activist groups to take action against this anti-LGBTQ rule.

Sultana High School in Hesperia, California is facing backlash after initially telling female students that they would not be allowed to wear tuxedos to prom, while male students would be required to wear them.

An 11-page letter to the Hesperia Unified School District Interim Superintendent David McLaughlin states, "At Sultana High School, it sadly seems the primary bullies are school are officials and teachers — the very adults with a legal obligation and an ethical imperative to stop bullying and harassment and to ensure an equal and supportive educational experience for all."

The letter also cites multiple instances of anti-LGBTQ bullying at the school, to the surprise of school board president Lee Rogers.

"I'm just absolutely shocked at this," he said. "The board has never received any complaints [about discrimination], period, since I've been on the board."

The school's handbook, however, tells a different story. According to the ACLU, the high school censored the speech and activities of the school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club, which, incidentally, is not listed in the handbook's list of school clubs. The Frontline Christian Club, Political Club, the Silk Screen Kings club and 31 others are.

Additionally, the handbook's dress code for dances requires that women wear dresses and men wear collared shirts and ties or tuxedos, depending on the formality of the event.

Levi Smithson-Johnston, a senior at Sultana High School, said the school's discrimination began when the GSA was formed last year.

"It’s saddening that they would even want to discriminate or even try to hide anybody of their sexual orientation or gender," he said.

The school reportedly tore down flyers, prevented the use of school facilities for GSA meetings, and even called a teacher a "bad fit" for the school after she helped a student file a complaint against another school official for homophobic bullying.

Among students' accusations of harassment include a male student who was told by a teacher that he didn't receive a valentine on Valentine's Day because "you're gay and nobody wants to be with you." Administrators have also freely used the word "gay" as an insult, in one instance telling a boy student to "take the gay headband off." Another teacher called a male student's candidacy for homecoming queen a "joke." This student was also harassed for wearing a suit to the homecoming dance instead of a dress.

The school district officially prohibits discrimination of any kind:

"District programs and activities shall be free from discrimination, including harassment, with respect to the actual or perceived ethnic group, religion, gender, color, race, ancestry, national origin, and physical or mental disability, age or sexual orientation," board policy 5145.3(a) reads in part.

Amber Stanford, a junior at Sultana High School, said she would like to see the school's treatment of gender non-conforming (GNC) and LGBTQ students "change drastically." She added that although she is not affected by this rule, she has several friends who are.

"Any student should be able to wear whatever they want no matter if they are boy or girl because it’s what they feel comfortable in," she said.

ACLU attorney Melissa Goodman thinks the situation is unacceptable.

"California law makes it crystal clear schools cannot discriminate against LGBTQ students based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression," she said.

The ACLU has asked McLaughlin to tell them by March 25 whether or not students will be able to wear non-gender-conforming attire to prom, among other requests that include cracking down on bullying of GNC and LGBTQ students.

This absolutely needs to go the way of the marginalized students in order for Sultana High School to create a safe environment for learning and living. Any other decision is a gross abuse of power and should be challenged further.