Gay Teen Wins Right to Bring Boyfriend to Prom

By Andrew Lu on February 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A gay teen has won the right to bring his boyfriend to the prom.

Stacy Dawson, an openly gay 17-year-old student in Missouri, wanted to take his high school sweetheart to the prom. It just so happened that the high school sweetheart was another male, reports NBC News.

Officials at Scott County Central High School initially told Dawson that he could not bring his boyfriend to the prom, set for April, and pointed to a written policy. But after Dawson and a civil rights group threatened legal action, the school district has apparently decided to revise that policy.

The policy in the student handbook stated that "students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls," according to NBC News.

Dawson questioned the policy, but school administrators at first said it could not be revised. Then on Thursday, Valentine's Day, the Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the school district, threatening a lawsuit. The district chose not to fight and, on Friday, told Dawson it would remove the "girls invite boys" policy from its handbook.

Had the district not chosen to revise its policy, it would have been an interesting question whether it could have prevented Dawson from bringing his boyfriend to the prom.

The Southern Poverty Law Center insists that would have been unlawful, and cited two prior court cases in its letter threatening legal action on Dawson's behalf.

One case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969. The Tinker case famously held that students don't "shed their freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gates." Schools can't limit students' self-expression, the SPLC said -- which means they can't prevent students from "expressing themselves" by bringing same-sex dates to the prom.

The SPLC also referenced a more recent case from 2010, when a federal judge in Mississippi cited free speech in allowing a girl to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend to the prom.

With these cases in mind, the school district perhaps chose the smartest and least controversial move by allowing Stacy Dawson to attend the prom with his boyfriend. Even if it could have ultimately won in court, the district would have garnered much unwanted public attention simply because of its stance.

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