Kaiden Johnson wanted to dance and compete with his high school dance team. But the Minnesota State High School League said no because he’s a boy and dance teams are for girls.
On Tuesday, lawyers with the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that Minnesota’s policy is discriminatory and violates Title IX, barring public schools from excluding students from sports and other extracurricular activities based on their gender.
“The Minnesota league cannot continue to discriminate by banning boys from competitive dancing,” said Joshua Thompson, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney on the case. “Title IX’s requirement for equal opportunity for all students, regardless of sex, is crystal clear. Schools cannot tell either boys or girls, ‘you’re the wrong sex, therefore, no dancing for you.’ ”
According to a Minnesota state statute, “it is not unfair discriminatory practice to restrict membership on an athletic team to participants of one sex whose overall athletic opportunities have previously been limited.”
Thompson argues dance isn’t a sport that can be used to achieve gender equity.
“[Minnesota officials] may simply have a belief that boys aren’t meant to be dancing and that boys should be competing in wrestling and football and dance is for the girls,” Thompson said. “These outdated stereotypes are precisely what our civil rights laws and our Constitution are designed to get rid of.”
Kevin Beck, an attorney representing the State High School League, said the league can’t comment on pending legal matters or the complaint.
The dance controversy began last December when Johnson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Superior High School in Wisconsin, planned to compete alongside the girls on his dance team at a Lake Superior Conference meet. For at least five years, the dance team has competed against Minnesota schools in the Lake Superior Conference along with some of the school’s other sports, including hockey, basketball, baseball and track, according to Ray Kosey, the high school activities director.
But Johnson was told he couldn’t compete with his team because Minnesota doesn’t allow boys on high school dance teams. School officials later were told that the team shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in the conference because, like lacrosse, dance isn’t a sanctioned sport in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Because of that, the dance team can’t compete in the Minnesota State High School League conference. And that means the case is moot and lacks standing, according to a letter the league’s attorney sent in October to the Pacific Legal Foundation. “Your threatened lawsuit is without merit,” the letter said.
But Thompson argues the case goes beyond Johnson. It’s about preventing the league from discriminating against other Minnesota boys, he said.
In Superior, Kosey said he’s surprised a Minnesota boy hasn’t challenged the rule, which likely was put in place years ago to protect athletic opportunities for females.
“I get that,” Kosey said. “If 20 boys tried out of the dance team, some girls might get cut and eliminate some girls from participating.”
But it’s unlikely many boys would try out for the dance team, he said.
“It’s time for us to have a conversation about whether this law is outdated … and whether it should be changed,” he said.
Johnson’s mother, Miranda Lynch, said her son is happy to bring this issue to the forefront.
“We know boys who are in Minnesota who want to be part of a dance team,” she said. “But they don’t want their name out there because they don’t want to be bullied.”
Johnson has stood up to bullies in the past, she said. “He’s willing to put his name out there.”
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788