Mississippi school district faces Title IX lawsuit after trans teen barred from attending band concert for wearing a dress

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Mississippi have filed a federal complaint against the Harrison County School District on behalf of the mother of a transgender teen who was forbidden from attending her band concert while wearing a dress.

The complaint, filed Wednesday with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), says the school district enforced “discriminatory sex-specific dress code policies” that “disproportionately harms girls, particularly transgender and gender nonconforming girls.”

The 16-year-old transgender girl, identified in the complaint as “A.H.,” wears traditionally feminine clothing which is “critically important to A.H.’s sense of self, gender expression, and identity as a girl,” according to the complaint.

In March, A.H. wore a black dress to a regional band concert evaluation that followed the style and length requirements of the district’s dress code for girls. But, according to the complaint, she was stopped by the school’s principal who told her, “Boys can’t wear skirts or dresses” and later said, “You can’t represent our school dressed like that.”

When presented with an ultimatum to have her mother bring “boys’ clothes” or not be allowed to participate, A.H. chose to change into a button-down shirt and dress pants and continue with the concert.

“A.H. felt utterly humiliated to be seen in clothing that was inconsistent with her gender identity,” said the complaint.

The Harrison County School District enforces a sex-based dress code that requires students to “follow the dress attire consistent with their biological sex,” according to the district’s student handbook.

The complaint states the school board added the “biological sex” provision to the dress code during a July 2023 meeting “in response to transgender and gender nonconforming students’ complaints about not being permitted to wear clothing associated with their gender identity and/or expression at school-sponsored events.”

Last May, another Mississippi transgender teen in the same district missed her high school graduation after she was told she had to wear boys’ clothing to attend, CNN previously reported. That teen went to Harrison Central High School, the same school as A.H., and was allegedly stopped by the same administrator over her clothing. A federal judge denied a motion filed by her family, the ACLU and ACLU of Mississippi requesting to allow her to wear a dress and heels.

CNN has reached out to the Harrison County School District for comment on the complaint and its accusations.

A.H.’s mother also alleges the school district has created a hostile environment for transgender and gender nonconforming students, detailing other instances of tension between students and administrators over the dress code.

In one case, a gay cisgender student who dresses in masculine-leaning attire, had her senior portrait excluded from the yearbook after wearing a tuxedo, according to the complaint, which cites a separate OCR complaint filed by the ACLU.

Another student was “pulled from the graduation line” before she was set to receive her diploma for wearing black pants under her graduation robe, according to the complaint.

“I’m deeply concerned about the discriminatory practices within Harrison County School District that have unfairly targeted my daughter, along with other students. Transgender and gender nonconforming students should not be forced to choose between participating in school events or remaining true to their gender identity,” said A.H.’s mother, Kimberly Hudson, in an ACLU statement. “We urge HCSD to take immediate steps to revise its dress code policies and create a more inclusive environment where all students can thrive.”

The family also requests the OCR open an investigation into the school district centered on Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, according to the complaint and ACLU statement.

The landmark federal civil rights law is set to change on August 1. Last month, the Biden administration announced an expansion of protections for students, including those who are LGBTQ+, to prohibit discrimination “based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics in federally funded education programs,” according to a fact sheet shared with CNN. The move formalizes a rule the administration previously proposed that would strengthen Title IX protections for transgender students.

In Mississippi and in other states, LGBTQ+ students are seeing their rights being chipped away. On Monday, Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill that requires people to use restrooms and housing at public education institutions that corresponds to their gender assigned at birth.

People will only be allowed to use housing or bathrooms based on their “sex ‘determined solely by a birth,’ without regard to the fluidity of how someone acts or feels,” the bill states.

Rob Hill, state director for the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi, said all Mississippians deserve “a state that allows them to exist in peace – and a government focused on making life better for all of us.”

“Instead, Governor Reeves caved to MAGA politicians, stoking anti-trans panic, flinging the doors open to harassment and discrimination, and attempting to strip basic rights from LGBTQ+ people in our state.”

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