Back in April I updated a story on Ceara Sturgis, a lesbian senior at Wesson Attendance Center in Jackson, Mississippi. Sturgis had her yearbook photo rejected by the school, citing dress codes, because she was wearing a tuxedo.
When the yearbooks came out, Sturgis was surprised to find that not only had her yearbook photo not been included, her name was not mentioned at all despite the fact that she had attended Wesson for 12 years.
The lawsuit charges Ceara's rights were violated under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and sex stereotypes, and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.
"Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance," said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It's unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people."
Ceara tried posing with the drape, but felt extremely uncomfortable and had her mother request that she wear the tuxedo instead. The photographer permitted Ceara to do so. It was only after the portrait was taken that the principal informed Ceara that he would not allow the photo to be published. Despite efforts to resolve the issue by Ceara's mother and the ACLU, Ceara received her yearbook without her portrait, or even her name, included in the senior class portrait section.
"This should never have been an issue. Title IX and the Constitution prohibit school officials from forcing students to conform to gender stereotypes. Ceara should not have been expected to compromise her everyday appearance and identity for her senior portrait," said Bear Atwood, interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. "The school's actions are discriminatory, unlawful and mean-spirited."
Read the full complaint HERE (PDF).
Said Sturgis' mom Veronica Rodriguez at the time the yearbooks were issued:
"They didn't even put her name in it. I was so furious when she told me about it. Ceara started crying and I told her to suck it up. Is that not pathetic for them to do that? Yet again, they have crapped on her and made her feel alienated. It's like she's nobody there, even though she's gone to school there for 12 years. They mentioned none of her accolades, even though she's one of the smartest students there with wonderful grades. They've got kids in the book that have been busted for drugs. There's even a picture of one of the seniors who dropped out of school. I don't get it. Ceara is a top student. Why would they do this to her?"