A US school has been threatened with a lawsuit after it barred a lesbian student from wearing a tuxedo in her senior prom picture.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU-MS) has sent a letter to the Copiah County School District demanding that school officials immediately cease violating the student’s rights.

School officials told Ceara Sturgis, an openly gay student at Wesson Attendance Center in Wesson, Mississippi, that her photo would not appear in the yearbook because in it she is wearing a tuxedo, not the traditional drape worn by other female students.

“Such a requirement for gender-specific clothing is a violation of students’ rights to gender equality and self expression. The decision by school officials to require Ceara to wear a drape is arbitrary, discriminatory and unconstitutional,” said the ACLU-MS.

In its letter to the Copiah County School District, the organisation told district officials that students’ right to self expression is protected under the First Amendment of the US constitution.

“Clothing, such as a tuxedo, worn as a statement of lesbian and gay rights, has been upheld by courts to be symbolic speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Schools have an obligation to protect, not extinguish, such speech,” it said.

The letter further noted that the 14th Amendment prohibits public schools from engaging in gender discrimination. It added that courts have also consistently upheld the First Amendment right of female students to wear tuxedos to senior proms.

“While school officials may impose a requirement of proper, even formal attire for senior photographs, officials cannot lawfully mandate requirements based on notions that only boys may wear tuxedos and only girls may wear dresses or drapes.

“Different treatment based on sex is constitutional only if supported by a significant governmental interest. The ACLU-MS certainly sees no significant governmental interest in barring girls from wearing tuxedos or forcing them to wear dresses/drapes,” said the organisation.

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