Student Protests After School Tells Him He Can't Wear Drag

Oct 23, 2015

A student at a Saratoga County high school has started a petition after he says school officials told him he could not go to prom in drag.

17-year-old Nate McCarten, a senior at Shenendehowa, says he wants to go to his senior prom in drag but school administrators have told him that isn’t allowed.

“It’s just a different art form and it’s a form of identity and expression within gender, so it’s kind of part of me and it’s important that I have the choice which way I want to dress,” said McCarten.

McCarten started an online petition about a month ago that now has more than 175 supporters. The message to school board members: “Drag queens should be allowed to do Drag at Shenendehowa's Prom.”

McCarten says this week he was instructed by a teacher that he cannot wear heels to school, but he argues there’s nothing in the school dress code that prevents boys from wearing heels.  Now he says the word is out among his peers and he’s picked up support from his fellow classmates.

“Other people I’ve barely every spoken to are standing up for what’s right, because it basically comes down to what seems like a gender stereotype issue that I’m not allowed to wear what I want to wear because I’m not identifying as a different gender, when there’s girls that dress like guys and they’re allowed in our school, and we’ve even had girls who wear tuxes to prom and that was allowed,” said McCarten. “So what I want out of this is just to be able to have people be respected and allowed to choose what they want to wear in a respectful manner.”

McCarten says he first asked school administrators about attending prom in drag last spring. The issue was discussed on the school district’s Grapevine web portal, where parents and students can communicate with administrators. There, a response to one question regarding drag read:

“It is unacceptable to do it ‘for fun or on a whim.’ However, anyone in that situation should talk to the principal. The social and emotional needs of our students will always be taken into consideration.”

Reached for comment by WAMC, Shenendehowa Central Schools Public Information Officer Kelly DeFeciani said:

“We address student needs such as this on a case-by-case basis. This requires a discussion between the student, parents and principal.”

McCarten says he hopes the district will put in place a program similar to its case-by-case transgender bathroom policy adopted last year.

James Shultis, Youth Program Manager at the Pride Center of the Capital Region, argues it’s legal for students to dress how they want to dress, as long as it’s within the standards of what’s acceptable for the opposite sex.

“Based on Federal legislation as well as local state legislation, students can dress however they’d like to dress that may not conform to traditional general roles. This is for school dances, this is for prom or homecoming, or even the day-to-day if that’s how they authentically identify their gender.”

A message to the Shenendehowa Board of Education inquiring about McCarten’s petition was not returned Friday.