Monday, May 4, 2009
Help Me Howard: Dress to Prom
It's the night high schoolers dress to impress: the senior prom, but one South Florida student says his outfit of choice is out after the principal stepped in to stop it. Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser tries this one on for size.
WSVN -- High school is tough for kids and became worse for Martavian Johnson when both his parents passed away.
Martavian Johnson: "My dad died like a year and half ago, and my mom died like a month and half ago. I like to see myself as a strong individual, I've coped with it."
Copes by living with his older brother. That makes him different, and this makes him stand out as well.
Martavian Johnson: "I'm gay."
Gay, happy and excited about the Homestead High School prom.
Martavian Johnson: "Prom is what everyone talks about."
And if he gets his way, his classmates will be talking about Martavian at the prom because he wants to dress ... in a dress.
Martavian Johnson: "I want to dress as a female for prom ... and male. I plan on doing both. I was going to switch. You walk in as a female, with your clothes on, and then you change at the party at the prom."
Martavian has worn dresses to parties before, along with make-up and his purses, but when he told the person in charge of the prom how he was going to dress, he got dressed down.
Martavian Johnson: "She said, 'OK, no. I'm not going to allow you to do this,' and she didn't give me a reason, she just said, 'No.'"
But, Martavian was determined, so he headed to the principal's office.
Martavian Johnson: "I scheduled an appointment with the principal, and she said, 'No, it would be a safety hazard. That if I walk in, guys wouldn't be OK with it and might start a ruckus about it."
Martavian countered, his sexuality wouldn't come as a shock to his classmates.
Martavian Johnson: "I tried to explain to her that I am openly gay in the school, and people know me in the school as being gay, so this wouldn't be a big surprise."
But, Homestead High is telling Martavian, 'If you want to come to the prom, ditch the dress,' not fair, he says.
Martavian Johnson: "So, I feel like it is kind of discrimination because, oh, you are gay, you can't do this because you are gay. You can't show up as a girl because you are a boy."
But, can a public school block a male from dressing as a female at a school function, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "Some people may not like a student wearing a dress, but in almost every federal case where this type of situation has come up, they have determined that requiring men or women to act in conformity with their gender is illegal. In other words, if a male student wants to wear a dress to the prom or a female wants to wear a tux, the school has to allow it."
The principal of Homestead Senior High wouldn't talk to us, instead referring us to the school district. The school district spokesman said, "We don't discriminate based on sexual orientation, that the principal was only being protective and looking out for Martavian's best interest." They then told us there were no rules that prohibit a male from wearing a dress to the prom.
Martavian can now shop for a dress. His dream of dolling up for the prom is going to happen.
Martavian Johnson: "It is very exciting now that I can wear my dress. I can go to prom. I'm happier."
Now, if the principal was stopping Martavian from wearing a dress for his own good, that might be well intentioned, but good intentions can't violate the law. Howard says instead, the principal's job is to make sure the other students behave rather than control the wardrobe of Martavian. Martavian's prediction, he will be a hit.
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