CHICAGO – Belinda Sanchez, 18, is a senior at Proviso East High School, located just west of here, in the suburb of Maywood.
Sanchez, an open lesbian at her school since freshman year, said she was looking forward to wearing the tuxedo her father had bought to the prom. But the school principal, Milton Patch, told Sanchez she could not wear the suit and that she should consider wearing a dress.
“I was shocked,” Sanchez said in a press release. “I didn’t know what to say. I felt like crying out of anger. I didn’t expect it from him.”
The school has an active gay-straight alliance and is very supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, said Sanchez.
So Sanchez contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which sent a letter to the school district in support of her constitutional right to wear a tuxedo to prom.
“This sends a negative message to other students that they can’t express who they are,” said John Knight, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a first amendment right, a free speech right, and that includes her right to send a message through wearing male clothing that she doesn’t think women should be restricted to traditional female clothing.”
Soon after the Proviso Township school district replied saying Sanchez will be allowed to wear a tuxedo to prom after all.
District official TaQuoya Kennedy said the decision was actually made before the ACLU sent their letter. In an email to the Tribune, Kennedy wrote that Sanchez has opened “up a new, very interesting and healthy dialogue in terms of our prom review procedures. We support our students in all of their differences and we encourage them to express themselves in various ways as long as it is not disruptive to the school environment. The principal gave his initial determination based on his interpretation of the policy, and the student asked that it be reconsidered. After looking into the policy – it was.”
Sanchez plans to wear a white tuxedo with a black bow tie.
“I’m happy,” she said. “I didn’t just stand up for myself. I did this for everyone who’s in a position like I’m in.”
The young student hopes to become a civil rights attorney one day and has already won her first victory.
All seriousness aside Sanchez says the whole ordeal, including the positive outcome, was “like a fairy tale gone totally fairy.”