It's Prom and Graduation Season ... Know Your Rights!

Spring can be an exciting time for students - prom, senior trips, and graduation are in the air. But being prevented from taking part in prom or graduation, or from wearing what you want, can sour the semester. These guidelines can help keep your high school memories happy ones, not reminders of prejudice.

The First Amendment, constitutional guarantees of equality, and New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination protect public school students' rights to choose a prom date and wear what they want.

  • You have the right to bring a same-sex date to the prom.
    • Public schools cannot require that your date be of the opposite sex.
    • You do not have to be gay to bring a date of your own sex.
    • You can't be subject to different rules or standards based on the sex of your date. If there is a professional photographer taking prom portraits, feel free to get one.
  • Girls can wear tuxedos and boys can wear dresses to the prom.
    • Public schools can implement certain rules about what to wear at a prom, but they can't be different for girls and boys. So, if you're a boy, you have the right wear a dress, but you still have to comply with school rules about formal wear or skirt length.
  • Public schools cannot have gender-based dress requirements for graduation.
    • As with prom, schools can't enforce a dress code based on gender. Girls can't be required to wear dresses under graduation gowns and boys can't be stopped from wearing dresses.
  • Yearbooks can't be censored by removing photos of gay students or couples.
  • Other things to know:
    • You have the right not to be bullied or harassed.
      Your school is required to have an anti-bullying policy in place and an effective way to handle complaints about bullying.
    • Students have the right to establish Gay Straight Alliances.
      If your school has non-curricular clubs (like Key Club or Drama Club), you can form a GSA. Stopping a GSA or treating it differently from other clubs is illegal.

You can find more prom-specific information at http://www.aclu.org/lgbtprom, and information about New Jersey students' rights in the "ACLU-NJ's Rights of Public School Students," which can be found at /yourrights/publications/

Students at secular private schools may find some legal protections for what they wear and who they bring to the prom under the Law Against Discrimination. If you experience discrimination at a private school's prom, consult the ACLU-NJ, New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or a private attorney.

If you run into any problems over these rights or are disciplined for how you express yourself, contact the ACLU-NJ at 973-642-2084 or /yourrights/fileacomplaint/

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