As a senior at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, TN, Lance Sanderson was told he couldn’t bring another boy as his date to the homecoming dance. Then he was suspended for protesting the decision. A year later, Sanderson, who’s now a freshman at DePaul University, is suing his alma mater for discrimination.
On September 20, Sanderson filed a lawsuit claiming that CBHS, a Catholic high school, caused him emotional distress as a result of his having been denied his homecoming date, NBC News reports. He is seeking $1 million dollars.
The school claimed that Sanderson couldn’t bring the boy he wanted because he didn’t go to CBHS, saying that “logistical reasons” prevented it. But for Sanderson, the message seemed clear. When he returned to class, he says he was met with hostility from his classmates, and was made to feel unwelcome. He ultimately chose to finish the school year by completing his coursework online.
“Everyone thought I had been expelled,” Sanderson told NBC. “It was pretty clear that I wasn’t welcome on campus … I was sure it wasn’t going to be good for me to be there for the rest of the year.”
In a Change.org petition made at the time, Sanderson claimed he had been out since 9th grade, and had been told by a CBHS official that the school does not discriminate. However, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, his lawsuit states that when he came out to school officials during the 2012-2013 school year, he was advised by the principal to keep his sexuality a secret, and that the principal “acted as if he were ashamed, embarrassed and disapproving of Lance’s sexual orientation …”
On its website, CBHS’ code of conduct states that “students should feel safe, secure and accepted regardless of color, race, background, appearance, popularity, athletic ability, intelligence, personality, sexual orientation, religion or nationality.”
Christian Brothers High School has made no public comment on the suit. When asked for comment, the school referred me to its attorney, who did not respond to phone calls.
In addition to the emotional distress claimed in Sanderson’s lawsuit, he also claims CBHS, despite being a private school, is in violation of Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, since the school receives some federal funding.
Title IX ostensibly bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender, but recent interpretations of have expanded it to include sexual orientation—notably in 2015, when a judge allowed a suit brought by two female athletes who claimed they were being discriminated against by Pepperdine University because they were dating each other, to proceed.
For Sanderson, however, his lawsuit is as much about the future as it is the past.
“I hope they don’t do this to anyone else in the future, and that other schools that try to abide by similar philosophies don’t do this to their students. Sanderson told NBC. “I really don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through this year.”