Gay Students Wanting to Be Seen

"This isn't a shock to me," said Chris Hampton, public education associate for the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project, when asked about LGBT students confronting problems at school.

"This happens all the time. But many students aren't aware of what their rights are, so they don't question it. They don't contact us so we don't know about them."

In October, Cynthia Stewart, a student at Tharptown High School in Franklin County, Ala., said she was denied the opportunity to bring her girlfriend to the prom she was helping to coordinate for next year.

After the school board refused to overturn the decision, Stewart was one of the few who contacted a civil rights attorney who put them in touch with the ACLU. Hampton said Stewart, 17, mentioned that some teachers had said they would cancel the dance if she chose to bring her date. But on the day the ACLU had planned to send the school a formal letter addressing the issue, Stewart told Hampton she had heard the prom wouldn't be canceled after all. Regardless, the ACLU decided to send a letter to the school. After receiving the letter the school confirmed Stewart would be able to attend, with her girlfriend as her date.

"With Cynthia, we just had her tell her story," Hampton said, adding that, in doing so, they hoped to increase public awareness about LGBT discrimination.

But because Stewart's girlfriend was from outside the district, assistant superintendent Donald Borden said her date would still need to go through the screening process for all out-of-district dates who attend such school functions.

"The schools handle their own problems, we don't have district rules," Borden told ABC News on Campus. "We didn't make any decision until after [Stewart] contacted her lawyer and then we just [met] with the principal."

Borden said he believed Tharptown High School Principal Gary Odom initially denied Stewart from attending the prom because of possible pressures from the community. Repeated calls made to Odom were not returned.

An 'Avalanche of Equality'?

Whatever the principal's motivation, it appears unlikely that such actions will discourage teens from following their hearts. "What we know is that younger people are more accepting in ways," Presgraves of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said. "But, I think society as a whole has a long way to go. We are going to see a slow trickle until we see an avalanche of equality."

In August, school officials in Wesson, Miss., alerted openly gay student Ceara Sturgis, 17, that she would not be included in her high school yearbook after she chose to wear a tuxedo for her senior portrait. A district employee said she was unaware whether a decision had been reached regarding the situation.

"I think, to some extent, we're talking about gender identity and that's a more important concept," said Randall Terrell, political director of LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas.

Students who don't conform to gender stereotypes, such as women who chose to wear a tuxedo, are wrongly subjected to discrimination, he added.

Also, this spring, student Brittany Crowell of Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Miss., took a school flier to the local ACLU office where she worked part-time. The flier, which was promoting the school's prom, said students were not allowed to take same-sex dates to the dance.

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