As a boy dancer, Kaiden Johnson put up with more than his share of teasing and bullying. But he never got out of step with his passion, and as a freshman, he made the varsity dance squad at Superior (Wis.) High School.
Then came the Lake Superior Conference Dance Championships in neighboring Duluth, Minn., where he faced an unexpected new challenge.
Already in costume, warmed up and waiting to take the floor with his team last December, Johnson was told the judges wouldn’t let him dance because he’s a boy. That’s the rule at the Minnesota State High School League, the governing body for high school sports.
“I felt useless,” he told the lawyers now representing him. “All that work I put in was wasted.”
On Tuesday, those same lawyers from Pacific Legal Foundation delivered a letter to the MSHSL demanding it change its girls-only policy for competitive dancing, or get sued in federal court.
The letter calls the rule unconstitutional discrimination based on sex and a violation of Johnson’s right to equal protection.
“Some boys prefer dance to football, and there is no reason to prohibit them from participating in their chosen sport except for outdated stereotypes about who should be competing in which sports,” the letter reads.
“The rules that MSHSL has adopted perpetuate insidious sex-based stereotypes, lending credibility to Kaiden’s bullies by suggesting that girls, but not boys, should dance. You make the fact that dance is girls-only sport a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Johnson’s mother, Miranda Lynch, told the Pacific Legal Foundation that her son showed a passion for music and dance when he was still he diapers.
“Ever since he was a baby, it’s just been something that’s always been a part of him.”
Johnson started lessons at age 5 and said he knew right away it was what he wanted to pursue. He has studied tap, ballet, jazz and now does kick and pom with the Superior team.
On a video Pacific Legal Foundation made about his case, he says he knows boys in Minnesota who would dance if they could, and that he hopes his challenge may open the door for them.
The director of the MSHSL did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
In May, an official with the Minnesota High School Dance Team Association told a local television station that the rule against boys on girls teams was a vestige of the early adoption of Title IX and meant to protect girls on their new teams.
Changing the rule might not be that easy, the official said then, because girls-only teams count to balance boys teams under Title IX.
Pacific Legal Foundation, is a California nonprofit that advocates for property rights and individual rights. It recently represented owners of a St. Croix County vacation cabin in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Its letter to the MSHSL sets a Nov. 3 deadline for the organization to change the girls-only rule before Pacifica will “pursue all available options.”