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Drawbridge Down : 2 Girls to Visit Magic Kingdom Together After a Mix-Up Barred Them

June 13, 1987|STEVE CHAWKINS | Times Staff Writer

The rights to life, liberty, and admission to Disneyland's all-night graduation party with a partner of either sex remained intact Friday.

Exactly who wanted to abridge those rights remained unclear, however.

Disneyland officials denied that they ever intended to bar a female Verdugo Hills High School senior from attending the bash with a female friend.

And Gary D. Turner, principal of Verdugo Hills High School, said he never even considered denying senior Theresa Joyce and her friend, junior Jennifer Hanna, the right to purchase $15 tickets to the mega-event.

Maggie Susersky, president of the school's PTSA, said she had no objection to the students' concept of friendship, and wondered how the local flap managed to draw the attention of at least three TV stations, three newspapers and the wire services.

The controversy erupted more than a week ago when Susersky refused to sell the two friends their tickets. She explained that she was following Disneyland's rules as set forth in a Disneyland memo. The document stated that graduating seniors were to attend "stag or with date of opposite sex." It seemed clear enough.

'Nothing to It'

"It was ridiculous," Susersky said Friday. "There was no reason it should have happened the way it happened. I'm amazed it got that far. There was nothing to it--and that's it."

Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles lawyer well-known for her zeal in pursuing feminist causes, disagreed. At a news conference she called Friday outside the Tujunga high school, she laid into what she described as the "clearly discriminatory" policy of the school and its PTSA.

"Friends should not be chosen on the basis of their sex, and neither should benefits be doled out by schools, PTSAs or others on that basis," she said, reading from a prepared statement.

"Further, such a policy will screen out lesbians and gays as well as persons who are not lesbian or gay but who value the companionship of a friend of the same sex. . . . "We look forward to a graduation night that celebrates the concept that a friend can be as important as a potential mate and that what people have in common is more important than biological differences."

Allred was flanked by the two students, whom she occasionally embraced for the photographers, and Ann Joyce, Theresa's mother.

Susersky also denied tickets to senior D'Shay Swayze and her sister, Ginifer Swayze, of Azle, Tex., citing the Disneyland policy.

Called Disneyland

But Theresa Joyce called Disneyland and was told the amusement park had no such policy. Then she and her friend alerted Allred, who prepared for battle with school and PTSA officials--who, of course, believed they were merely following a dictum from Disney.

The officials, however, did not realize that Disneyland had renounced its dating policy "three or four years ago," according to Disneyland spokesman Bob Roth.

"One of the pieces of material we sent out this year reflected an outdated policy," he said. "It was our mistake. It should have been caught; it should have been corrected, but it wasn't."

"That's not the policy," he said. "It never was very enforceable, and it's not an issue worth attempting to enforce."

This year, 1,050 high schools will send 130,000 graduating seniors and their companions to Disneyland to frolic from about midnight until dawn. The event began in 1961 as an effort to offer graduates a good time in a setting where drinking would be virtually impossible, Roth said.

He acknowledged that Disneyland lost a legal battle several years ago over its prohibition of same-sex dancing, but said dropping the ban on same-sex escorts was unrelated to that litigation.

In any event, Allred telephoned the school Thursday for an appointment with the principal. Shortly after the call, Theresa was summoned out of a class, and Susersky offered the tickets to her, suggesting it was a favor "specially for you," Joyce said.

"I couldn't believe she'd say that," said Joyce, an aspiring actress. "It shouldn't be especially for me, but for everybody, and not just this year, but every year."

And so it shall be. After meeting Friday with Allred, her clients, and Susersky, Turner said seniors will be sent a letter telling them to take whomever they want to the event Wednesday.

Meanwhile, he professed a measure of awe at the visit of "an internationally known celebrity" like Allred.

"The only thing that might have topped it," he said, "is if Judge Wapner showed up," referring to retired Judge Joseph Wapner of the television show "The People's Court."

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