The civil rights of an openly gay student at Proviso East High School were recently jeopardized when her principal, whether knowingly or unknowingly, made a brash decision that basically shoved her back into the closet.Ê Fortunately, District 209 officials reversed the principal’s decision after the Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union intervened.
Belinda Sanchez is the 18-year-old Proviso East senior who enlisted the help of the ACLU-IL, when her principal, Milton Patch, rebuffed her request to wear a tuxedo to her April 22 prom.
Sanchez’s account of her interaction with Patch makes his decision seem intolerant and closed-minded. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what Patch’s views are, or why he told Sanchez she would be a “sideshow” at “his prom”; he didn’t return our calls.
What’s additionally bothersome is that Sanchez navigated this process with more efficiency and responsibility than did the adult officials within the district. She followed the rules of the prom review packet – which students have to submit so officials can tally the number of attendees and monitor what the kids are wearing – and sought her principal’s approval of her dress choice. When she was denied, she tried to reach Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart, to no avail. And, finally the determined young woman enlisted the support of the ACLU-IL, and only then did the district overrule Patch’s decision; until then, she was basically ignored.
Spokesperson TaQuoya Kennedy told us that there is “nothing wrong” with Sanchez’s choice of attire it’s just that the issue is “new” to the district. Not according to Sanchez and the ACLU-IL. Both stated that Proviso students have attended dances in gender-bending clothing in the past; the only difference is those students didn’t responsibly navigate the pre-prom application process like Sanchez did, they just showed up without announcing their dress choices beforehand.
We’re glad that the district overruled Patch’s potentially harmful decision, but it shouldn’t have dragged its feet in doing so. If not for Sanchez’s steadfastness and a letter from an ACLU lawyer, it’s entirely possible that this issue would have gone unresolved.
Gay kids are a part of the fabric of our society and they attend Proviso schools. Ignoring their rights and needs is extremely detrimental to the healthy and nurturing environment these kids need during this critical time in their lives. The emotional and mental consequences could have been dire here. Get with it, D209. And enjoy your prom Belinda.