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New Prom Rules For Small-Town Texas School ... A Sign of the Times?

May 11, 2012

JARRELL, Texas – Eighteen-year-old Allison Brawley will be taking the date of her choice to the Jarrell High School senior prom tomorrow night - but she had to fight for the right.

It started in February, when her principal suggested she could sidestep rules prohibiting same-sex prom dates by finding a male to officially escort her girlfriend to the dance. For Brawley, it wasn't a satisfactory solution.

"Yeah, I prefer having the same rights as anyone else."

With the help of her mom, she appealed to the district superintendent, armed with a supportive petition signed by nearly half the student body and some teachers. But it wasn't until the Brawleys asked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to get involved that the district wrote up new rules allowing same-sex dates.

ACLU of Texas staff attorney Stephanie Bauman, who negotiated with school district lawyers, says her organization often intervenes in such cases in other parts of the country - usually without resorting to lawsuits.

"Once there's a conversation started, in most cases the district will understand that this is the right thing to do and will let students take dates of the same sex to prom. Lately, at least, this is getting resolved amicably."

Brawley plans to study biochemistry at Southwestern University this fall. She sees public opinion on LGBT rights evolving rapidly, even in small towns like Jarrell - and credits her peers for leading the way.

"I do think a lot of people my age are really open and okay with same-sex couples and marriage. I think one day we may have gay marriage in Texas. That'd be great."

She says she's pleased to have helped pave the way for other same-sex couples at future proms. While she has received negative feedback from some students and faculty, she says most have supported her efforts.

To Bauman, there's a lesson for other L-G-B-T students in Texas...

"If they feel like they're treated differently in any circumstance - not just prom - standing up for yourself can work out, and it can get positive results."

She says while small-town America does appear to be increasingly accepting of gay civil rights, change doesn't happen overnight. Just two years ago, a Fulton, Mississippi, high school canceled its prom rather than allow a same-sex couple to attend after the ACLU prevailed in a court challenge on behalf of a lesbian senior.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX