A Red Lion Area High School transgender student was allowed to bring his girlfriend to prom on Saturday, but the American Civil Liberties Union is still waiting for the school district apologize to the student following the prom king controversy.
The ACLU said on Friday that Issak Wolfe, a senior Red Lion student whose birth name is Sierra Stambaugh, should be issued an apology by the district after high school principal Mark Shue decided to place Wolfe on the prom court ballot two weeks ago under prom queen and under his birth name.
That listing was despite Wolfe's identifying himself as a transgender male for several years and asking to run as a prom king candidate.
The demand is part of a letter dated April 26 sent to the district. Legal action could be sought, according to Molly Tack-Hooper, ACLU staff attorney, although the ACLU hopes it won't come to that. A Friday deadline was set by the ACLU for a response by Red Lion.
"There's very clear liability for the school district," Tack-Hooper said.
Tack-Hooper said Shue previously indicated he would bar Wolfe's girlfriend, Taylor Thomas, a Red Lion graduate, from attending prom on Saturday because she made critical remarks about Red Lion on Facebook. The district, after speaking with the ACLU, announced on Friday it would allow Thomas, 19, to attend prom.
"Everything went fine. It went off really well," said Wolfe's father, William Stambaugh.
Tack-Hooper said Thomas had removed some of the more scathing remarks out of cooperation, although Tack-Hooper said the ACLU believes Thomas shouldn't have needed to do so.
Red Lion has been in ongoing conversation with the ACLU.
"The Red Lion Area School District is working with the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania to resolve the remaining issues identified in their original letter to the school district," the ACLU said in a statement.
Graduation: As part of the demands by the ACLU, Wolfe wants to be able to walk at graduation in the boys' graduation garments, which are black, instead of the yellow cap and gown for girls. The ACLU demanded Red Lion inform Wolfe that they will announce him as "Issak Wolfe" at graduation and allow him to wear the black boys' cap and gown.
Wolfe said he understands the diploma, which is a legal document, would still have his legal name on it, since he hasn't changed it yet. But the other recognition of his gender matters.
"It's embarrassing at this point in my life to have my name read as the wrong name," Wolfe said. "I don't want to be forced to wear yellow because I'm not a girl. My family and I both want this so they can remember it the right way."
Red Lion Superintendent Scott Deisley declined to comment on the situation to "respect the privacy" of those involved.
Tack-Hooper said the ACLU isn't aware of any previous, similar situations in Pennsylvania, but she did cite a 2010 case involving Michigan transgender high school student Oak Reed, who ran for homecoming king but the principal threw out all the ballots because Reed is biologically a girl. The school, according to news reports, eventually decided to simply honor the top two finishers regardless of gender.
Policy change? Tack-Hooper said Red Lion also needs to make an anti-discrimination policy so that this won't happen again.
"(Wolfe) is concerned about other transgender students down the line," Tack-Hooper said.
The family "wants to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," Stambaugh said.No monetary damages are being sought as part of the demands. Tack-Hooper said Red Lion is violating Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which deals with gender discrimination, as well as the equal protection clause in the Constitution.
In the Michigan case, Reed was allowed to wear the boys' graduation gown.
- Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org