Teen heads to Nevada for selective summer program, says dress code at Utah event sexist

UTAH – A dress code dispute led one Utah teen who was accepted into a selective summer program to head to another state to participate.

The dress code for Girls State in Utah says girls must bring, "Dresses or skirts and blouses to wear every day."

Every summer, a select 16,000 students take part in a nationwide professional summer program focused on teaching high school juniors the ins and outs of government, civics and Americanism. American Legion Auxiliary launched the Girls State program in 1937 and introduced a Utah chapter in 1946.

“It’s about teaching girls to have critical thinking skills and participate in the political process,” said Lura Snow, a resident of Hurricane.

Snow’s daughter, Isabelle Glover, was one of just 330 girls selected to take part in the program from the state of Utah. But when they received further information, it wasn’t the curriculum that stood out to them.

“One of the first things I stumbled upon was the emphasis on what they needed to be wearing,” Snow said.

In big, bold letters, the first line on the Utah Girls State ‘what-to-bring' web page reads, “Dresses or skirts and blouses to wear every day.’ Keep reading and you’ll see they don’t even allow pantsuits.

“It’s supposed to be about how our government works, and democracy and learning how our country runs,” said 17-year-old Isabelle Glover.

“We’re shifting the focus onto how women should dress?” she added.

Snow said: “It’s just reaffirming that girls are inferior because they have to be judged based on their appearance versus judged based on what they’re achieving."

Utah Girls State does have a male counterpart, Utah Boys State. The program has the same general concept, but they have two very different dress codes.

When it comes to the Utah Boys State ‘what-to-bring’ web page, there is one general sentence, “Underwear, trousers, shoes and socks for a five-day stay. You will be provided two Utah boys State T-shirts which you will wear throughout the week.”

“The emphasis for the boys’ site was just like, ‘Show up, we’ll give you a T-shirt. Wear your jeans. Have fun.’” Snow said.

“There was nothing for the boys like, 'It’s so important what you look like,' it was important what the boys were doing and what they were there to achieve,” she added.

Within the American Legion Auxiliary, each state has their own department and each department sets their own dress code.

For our neighboring state, Nevada, they say they had a dress code similar to Utah's historically, but that’s been a thing of the past for about 20 years.

“In probably the mid-90s some of our younger staff members were able to convince our older staff members that things needed to change,” said Courtenay Burns, the Program Chairwoman for Nevada Girls State.

Snow said the American Legion made a statement expressing their intentions to revisit the dress code after a similar issue was brought to their attention last year - so she contacted the director for Utah Girls State.

“She said, and I quote, ‘As long as I’m the director this rule will not change,’” Snow said.

Fox 13 reached out to the director for Utah Girls State a number of times but did not receive a response.

“I just want girls my age, and girls younger than me, to know they’re not defined by what they wear or how they look,” Isabelle said.

Isabelle has decided not to attend Utah Girls State and will instead be taking part in the program in Reno, Nevada—where the dress code is limited.

"We like to listen to these young women, they are the future of everything,” Burns said. “So when they’re telling us, ‘Hey, we’d like it to be more relaxed,' we just want to be there to learn and not have to worry about what we’re wearing,’ we tried to listen,” she added.

Even though Isabelle will now attend the program in Reno, Snow said she and her daughter will continue to fight the Utah Girls State dress code.

“It’s about changing the rules for girls, and it’s about changing the concept that Utah is so backwards,” Snow said.