November 21, 2018

Fight to keep boys off Minnesota dance teams is a losing battle

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

Originally published by Star Tribune, November 21, 2018

Minnesota is historically known as a progressive state. But if you’re the parent of a high school dancer, you can be excused for thinking otherwise. After recent changes in South Dakota, Minnesota is now the only state in the country that prohibits boys from participating in high school dance team competitions.

Earlier this year, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) sued the South Dakota High School Activities Association on behalf of high school sophomore Freddie Linden, who wanted to try out for his school’s dance team but was prohibited. In response to the litigation, South Dakota immediately suspended its rule for the 2018-19 school year. As a result, the lawsuit was put on hold, and Freddie and another boy were able to try out for, and make, their respective school’s teams. After the South Dakota dance season concluded in October, a committee of the South Dakota association unanimously voted to recommend a permanent rule change to allow boys to participate in dance.

In contrast, despite having opportunities to change course for over a year, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) insists on prohibiting boys from participating in competitive dance. Indeed, rather than acknowledge that this policy is outdated and based on offensive stereotypes, league officials shoehorn boys into traditional male activities like football and baseball. Not only is this wrong, it’s also unconstitutional and violates federal civil rights law.

For example, consider how MSHSL treated Kaiden Johnson, of Superior, Wis., a high school boy who loves to dance. Because of its proximity to Duluth, Kaiden’s school’s competitive dance team competed in Minnesota events. But that changed after Kaiden made the team his freshman year. Kaiden’s team was just about to go on the floor at a dance competition when the team was informed Kaiden couldn’t join his teammates because the Minnesota league doesn’t allow boys to dance.

Kaiden was crushed, as all his hard work was for naught. Worse still, his plea to MSHSL to modernize its discriminatory rule was met with silence. Indeed, even when PLF filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of Kaiden, league officials refused to change the rule.

Fortunately for Kaiden, in response to MSHSL’s intransigence, his school stopped participating in league events, preferring to travel greater distances to events in Wisconsin than allow him to continue suffering discrimination at the hands of Minnesota league officials.

But what about Minnesota boys who love to dance and would like to compete? In July, again with the help of PLF, Twin Cities-area 11th-graders Dmitri Moua and Zachary Greenwald sued MSHSL in federal court to force it to change its unlawful dance rule. Yet again, rather than make a simple rule change, league officials apparently would prefer to fight in court (at great expense) for the right to discriminate against boys.

In light of MSHSL’s continued refusal to do the right and constitutional thing, one would expect the league to have a good reason for discriminating against boys. But that’s not the case.

League officials have defended their girls-only dance rule by claiming they must exclude boys in order to create opportunities for girls and redress past discrimination against girls. But MSHSL has failed to present any evidence to support those defenses.

To the contrary, the evidence actually shows that for the last two years boys, rather than girls, have been underrepresented in Minnesota high school athletics. And allowing boys to participate in dance will not take opportunities from girls, because the league admits that few boys have expressed interest in dance and roster size is not a limiting factor. Therefore, excluding boys from dance is completely unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to perpetuate outmoded stereotypes about the preferred activities for boys and girls.

MSHSL officials should take a page from South Dakota. Rather than continue their discriminatory practice in the face of evidence showing it to be misguided, league officials should change their rule and just let boys dance. If not, it’s only a matter of time until a court commands it to.

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D.M. & Z.G. v. Minnesota State High School League

When 16-year-old Dmitri Moua discovered dancing, he also found a new way to be a part of a team, and build his self-confidence. But when he wanted to join his high school’s competitive dance team, he was denied because he is a boy. Dmitri’s school is in the Minnesota High School League—whose bylaws declare competitive dance a “girls only” sport. On behalf of Dmitri, Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the rule’s constitutionality.

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