Ahead of Prom, Gay Teen Takes Old-Fashioned School to Court

(CN) – As his school gears up for yet another prom where he says the principal will literally separate same-sex couples on the dance floor, a Buffalo teen brought a federal complaint Wednesday to put the community’s old-fashioned notions in the dustbin.

It can all begin, 18-year-old Byshop Elliott says, with permission to start McKinley High School’s first Gay-Straight Alliance.

“This situation is not new, it is not a secret, and from the students’ perspective the message is clear: the adults responsible for safeguarding their rights have chosen to exclude LGBTQ students from their protection,” the complaint states. “Even more, they actively endorse anti-LGBTQ discrimination.”

Elliott, who is in his junior year, says he is part of a large and diverse population of LGBTQ students and allies at McKinley.

“They represent all grade levels,” the complaint states, “and for years they have wanted to form a GSA.”

Elliott says every year since 2014, however, McKinley Principal Crystal Boling-Barton has rejected these students’ club-making petitions.

“McKinley High School is a hostile place for LGBTQ students and allies, based both on the ongoing absence of a GSA and on Principal Boling-Barton’s perceived antipathy towards LGBTQ students and LGBTQ issues,” the complaint states.

Saying the principal is not the only one to blame, however, Elliott also notes that it is within the Buffalo City School District’s authority to take action.

“The effect of the district’s complicity in perpetuating this discrimination at McKinley High School has been to prevent the GSA from forming, commencing meetings, or enjoying any of the privileges afforded to other school-approved student clubs,” the complaint states.

With McKinley gearing up for prom on May 19, Elliott says “LGBTQ students are reminded every day that they are second-class citizens.”

“Announcements over the loudspeaker warn that they are not permitted to bring a same-sex date to prom and that ‘couples’ tickets are reserved for opposite-sex couples,” the complaint states. “If a girl dares to dance with her girlfriend at a school dance, the principal separates them.”

The perfect place for students to discuss these issues, Elliott notes, is a Gay- Straight-Alliance.

Located in Buffalo’s Blackrock area, according to the complaint, McKinley is a grades 9-12 vocational school with about 1,000 students enrolled.

“Approximately 87% of those enrolled are students of color like Byshop,” the complaint states.

brought his lawsuit in the Western District of New York against the Buffalo City School District and principal of a Blackrock-area vocational school called McKinley.

Elliott is represented by Robert Hodgson, a Manhattan attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation.

NYCLU counsel purportedly sent five emails and left several voicemails over the summer with attorneys for the Buffalo School District about Principal Boling-Barton’s refusal to approved the students’ petition to form a Gay Straight Alliance.

Hopeful GSA organizers view the club “as particularly necessary in light of the school-sponsored discrimination faced by LGBTQ students at McKinley,” the complaint states.

Representatives from the Buffalo City School District did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The complaint seeks an injunction and nominal damages.