October 2009 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Female Student Denied a Place in Yearbook for Donning a Tuxedo in Senior Photo

Wesson, MS
 
The principal of a Copiah County high school has refused to publish the senior photograph of an openly gay student in the school’s yearbook. The principal claims that she did not follow the dress code when she wore a tuxedo instead of the “drape” traditionally worn by female students for senior photos.
 
“I tried on the drape and it looked ridiculous. It was terrible,” the student said in an interview.[1] She continued to say that the decision to wear a tuxedo came naturally: “That’s just who I am. I don’t dress like a girl. I don’t even own any girl clothes.”[2]
 
After submitting the photos, the student’s mother said that she received a letter stating that only boys could wear tuxedos. However, she discovered that the student handbook contains no such specifications as to what students are allowed to wear in the photograph. Tuxedos for men and drapes for women are simply the established norm that had not been challenged before this incident. When the student’s mother spoke with the principal, he explained that it was his own “conviction” that led him to exclude the photograph from the yearbook.[3]
 
The student also pointed out that although the principal has problems accepting her wish to wear a tuxedo in her yearbook photo, he did not have qualms about publishing photos from the school’s “backwards beauty and beau pageant,” in which participants dressed up as members of the opposite sex. In fact, the 2008 yearbook contains photos of students who participated in this event and the student explained that she saw the exclusion of her photograph as incongruous. “I paid for my senior photos. Why can’t it be in there?” she asked.[4]
 
The student and her mother have been in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, which issued a letter demanding that the principal publish the photo or face legal action, giving him until October 23rd to respond. The ACLU legal director commented that “You can’t discriminate against someone because they’re not masculine enough or because they’re not feminine enough. She’s making an expression of her sexual orientation through this picture, and that invokes First Amendment protection.”[5]
 
On October 16th, through the local paper, the school district released a response to the ACLU, stating: “It is the desire of the Copiah County School District to inform, first, the patrons of the District, and second, all other interested parties, that its position is not arbitrary, capricious, or unlawful, but is based upon sound educational policy and legal precedent.”[6]
 
Now that the school district has refused to concede to the ACLU’s request, it is up to the student and her family to decide whether they would like to pursue the issue further. Even if they decided to file a court case, however, it would not likely be settled in time to affect the 2010 yearbook.   


[1] Katina Rankin, “Wesson Girl Wants to Wear Tux in Yearbook Photo,” WBLT, 15 October 2009, accessed 30 October 2009, <www.wlbt.com/Global/story.asp?S=11309848>.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Sheila Byrd, “ACLU joins Girl’s Fight to Wear Tux in Photo,” The Commercial Appeal, 18 October 2009, accessed 30 October 2009 <www.commercialappeal.com/news/2009/oct/18/aclu-joins-girls-fight-to-wear-tux-in-photo/>. 
[4] Rankin, “Wesson Girl Wants to Wear Tux in Yearbook Photo.”
[5] Byrd, “ACLU joins Girl’s Fight to Wear Tux in Photo.”
[6] “CCSD Responds to Recent Yearbook Matters,” Copiah County Courier, 16
October 2009, accessed 30 October 2009, <www.eclassifiedsnetwork.com/content.aspx?module=ContentItem&ID=155299&MemberID=1230.>