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The Body Electric: Freak Out! On Tuxedos in Mississippi

Ceara.jpg

 In yet another fantastic display of what happens when ignorance meets a media blitz, the potential yearbook photo of Ceara Sturgis--an openly gay high school student from Mississippi whose school won't allow this photo of her in a tux into the yearbook due to gender rigidity--is now published, many times over, in a wide range of media outlets.

You know when even Fox news adopts a relatively sympathetic stance, you're way right of popular opinon. Officials at Wesson Attendance Center are now up against the ACLU, whose legal director, Kristy Bennett, asserted that, "You can't discriminate against someone because they're not masculine enough or not feminine enough." I mean, in many places you still can, but it's nice to know that so many people think it's bullshit that it happens.

All this has me thinking back on my high school proms. In 1998, when I was junior at a small school in western Pennsylvania, I chose to attend the prom at my girlfriend's more liberal private school than go to my own-even though I was openly gay. I had a great time at my girlfriend's prom, and I was able to attend in exactly the clothes I wanted and we were welcomed as a couple--but I'll never forget my feeling of not wanting to pick a battle at my own high school. At seventeen, I--like most misfits who grow up far from a coast--was ready to go to college, to get out, to live in a big city teeming with artists and people who I knew would understand me. Of course, there are open and closed minds everywhere and my high school (not to mention New York City) is no exception. But I remember the relief I felt knowing that attending prom didn't have to be a political act, because just walking down the street felt like one.

Ten years later, Ceara Sturgis is impressive to me--not just for her courage to stand up to a school that clearly is ruled by fear and righteousness--but also because of the obvious support she receives from her family and the apparent cavalier attitude of most of her schoolmates regarding the whole thing. "To hide how you express yourself is not being true to yourself," her mother, Veronica Rodriguez, told reporters.

Well said. I hope the district lets Ceara have her yearbook moment but--in the meantime--I love that Ceara's picture has gone international, forever preserved by all of us. And I hope that, ten years from now, she has a similar moment of admiration for a young person who's challenging the world to stretch past prejudice and into a new day.

On second thought, I hope that day will have already come.

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Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I remember at my high school

I remember at my high school prom they openly stated that we could not have same-sex couples.I was dumbfounded not only because my friend couldn't bring her girlfriend, but I was also told I couldn't even bring my sister! I was also struck by the fact that my school had a pretty decent sized openly-gay population, and that in any other situation were backed by the school.

I am the unfortunate

I am the unfortunate yearbook adviser where I teach. I can't wait for this one to come up! I also happen to be co-adviser for our school's Gay Straight Alliance. Every year I hope some of the kids will take a stand and take their true dates to the prom. They would be surprised how many teachers and fellow students would back them up against administration. Hilarious the result they got from denying this girl a basic right. Now they just look like fools.

After that, one would have

After that, one would have to argue that not being allowed to wear something that others are able to wear counts as "discrimination" based on sex.

Yah know, This isn't the

Yah know,

This isn't the ACLUesque case you'd have us believe. If it's the policy that each gender dresses a certain way for the yearbook, and its enforced equally its not a civil rights issue. There's no leeway for a girl to wear any dress other than the drape. If the girl wasn't gay, this would be a non issue.

I don't think that's true.

I don't think that's true. If I'd gone to that school, I'd likely have worn the tuxedo, and I'm straight. And if they're forcing all the girls and all the boys to wear the exact same gender binary things, I doubt they would have let me get away with it either. I don't think it has to do only with someone's sexuality, but their identity as a whole person which is encompassed by and goes beyond being gay or straight, male or female.

Making a Federal case out of it.

I think you can make a reasonable case that treating people one way if they're male and another way if they're female is pretty much definitionally "gender discrimination", and is morally wrong.

Whether it's legally wrong . . . well, I could make a case that it's a violation of Title IX.

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

One would have to see if the school is getting any money from a Federal program, of course. If so, one would have to see how the yearbook was funded, and might have to make a "money is fungible" argument.

After that, one would have to argue that not being allowed to wear something that others are able to wear counts as "discrimination" based on sex.

I think it's plausible. Making a connection between the yearbook and Federal funds would be the trickiest part, but I think there's a good chance it could be done.

I consider being told to

I consider being told to dress based on sex to be very discriminatory. Here in canada a woman won a court case about something very similar, which is why women are now legally allowed to go topless. Sadly for everyone who like looking at naked boobs very few actually do.

I would say that sex based dress codes are enforced inequality.

Actually, I'm pretty sure it

Actually, I'm pretty sure it is. As an analogy, consider the history of *race*-based policy in the US. Even race-based discrimination that is enforced equally against all races -- anti-miscegenation (intermarriage) laws in effect in many states, which which were enforced no matter who was marrying whom -- were declared unconstitutional by the supreme court in Loving v. Virginia (1967).

Beyond the issue of discrimination, I think she could skip the discrimination claim and rightfully claim that her manner of dress was a form of speech, ala Tinker, and sue for section 1983 relief.