In the photos that accompany an article in the Forrest Park Review Wednesday, Belinda Sanchez, a lesbian student at Proviso East High School, is seen smiling and fitting into a white tuxedo. But, a few weeks ago, that was only a dream.
The eighteen-year-old high-school senior had approached her principal, Milton Patch, to tell him about her choice of attire, but Patch rebuffed her request. He said it would make her a "sideshow" at "his prom," according to Sanchez. What's more, said Sanchez, Patch told her that girls "are supposed to wear things that are more revealing."
"I told him, 'I don't feel comfortable wearing a dress because that's not who I am,'" Sanchez said. "Pretty much he shut me down."
Sanchez emailed Proviso District 209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart and received no response, so she called the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU-IL) for help. ACLU lawyers sent a letter to the school district on March 30, and the district overruled Patch the following day. D209 officials denied that the ACLU's involvement had any impact on its decision.
"I think there is a reality that a school district probably pays more heed when it gets a letter from a lawyer than when a student raises a question. I'd say that's sort of a shame," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for ACLU-IL. "Schools are insular places by their very nature, and sometimes there needs to be that little continued push from the outside to help make that substantial change."
Yohnka said the reply the ACLU-IL received from the district explicitly states that Sanchez can wear clothes of the opposite gender, but the district's policy on the matter is not specifically outlined in its code of conduct or the district's prom review policy.
"Our Constitution says you should be able to express yourself, with freedom of speech and the First Amendment, so why shouldn't it be that way in school, the safest place, supposedly?" Sanchez said.