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A gay student is filing a lawsuit against his Tennessee high school for barring him from bringing a male date to a school dance.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday with the Shelby County Circuit Court, 19-year-old Lance Sanderson is arguing that Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) of Memphis, an all-male private school, violated Title IX, a federal law that forbids discrimination based on sex from any educational programs that receive federal funds, in its refusal to allow Sanderson to bring his same-sex date to the school homecoming dance.

The suit is seeking to extract $1 million from CBHS for the alleged infractions, which also include failure to properly train staff in handling issues of sexual orientation and deliberate infliction of “emotional distress.”

The story first made national headlines in September 2015 after an online petition was created urging the school to reverse its decision. In a brief explanation written by Sanderson for the petition, his plans to bring a male date to the dance were “met with harsh opposition by [the] school.”

Sanderson concluded by asserting he had “experienced a lot of homophobia” and “felt bullied by both the school administration and by some of the students.”

“I’m not asking for special treatment,” he maintains.

The school held firm, however, and refused to rescind its decision barring same-sex dates. As a result, Sanderson skipped the dance and elected to finish the remainder of his senior year from home.

Now the senior, currently a freshman at DePaul University in Chicago, is seeking compensation for the purported emotional distress inflicted on him by the CBHS.

“As a private school, CBHS held itself out to be nondiscriminatory with regard to sexual orientation,” Manis remarked. “In our eyes, it seems very clear those were hollow words. They were not interested in treating [Sanderson] the same as other students.”

The use of Title IX discrimination as supporting the causes of LGBT individuals has recently been the subject of much scrutiny. The text of the legislation declares no U.S. citizen shall be discriminated against by an educational program receiving federal funds “on the basis of sex,” which multiple federal judges and the Obama administration have extended to include both sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, the sweeping move to embrace LGBT causes within the protection of the federal legislation is not without its critics. In an August ruling blocking the application of a federal mandate ordering that public schools provide unlimited restroom access to transgender students, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Austin, Texas declared that “it cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex as used … following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.”

The question of Title IX’s applicability with regard to gender identity has been brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in a petition filed by a Virginia school board ordered by a lower court ruling to allow a female transgender student to use the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms.

James Muthoka
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