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Lesbian Teen Sues Over Tux Senior Picture Ban

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on August 18, 2010 2:22 PM

Senior year of high school can be stressful, so many demands and so many changes. It was more stressful than normal for Ceara Sturgis, who after having her senior picture taken for the yearbook, found that she would be completely excised from the class list: no picture, no name. Why? Because Ceara Sturgis choose to have her picture taken in a tux, as is traditional for boys, instead of the drape that is often traditional for girls. Her school in Mississippi's Copiah County School District, declined to allow her picture to appear. Like Constance McMillen before her, Ceara sued.

The ACLU of Mississippi is having a busy year. The Associated Press reports that after successfully concluding McMillen's case to be allowed to attend her prom with the date of her choice, they will be representing Ceara in her suit for discrimination based on gender and gender stereotypes under Title IX, and for violation of equal protection, under the Fourteenth Amendment.

According to the AP, the ACLU first contacted school officials about Ceara's senior picture in the fall of 2009, but the school maintained they would adhere to the school policy. Under that policy Ceara, a student with a 3.9 grade average, is not included in her yearbook. "I guess in the back of my mind I knew that was going to happen, but I did have a little hope. I cried. I put my head down and put my hand over my face," Sturgis told the AP on Tuesday.

Title IX is part of the 1972 Education Amendments. It says in part: "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." Most know about Title IX in the context of sports, but it may apply to other school "activities" as well.

However, it should be noted that schools often have had leeway in curbing student behavior that can be disruptive the educational purpose of the school. This example is often seen in the many student free speech cases regarding online posts that have come before the courts in recent years and months.

In this case however, could the school be said to be acting more like the fashion police than the overseers of the educational purpose of the school? It is unclear what is particularly "male" about tuxedo dressing. The French couturier Yves Saint Laurent introduced the female version of the tuxedo to great controversy and eventually, to great acclaim. But that was back in 1966. Perhaps more modern notions of what is deemed "gender appropriate" should apply in 2010.

The lawsuit names the school district, District Superintendent Rickey Clopton and school Principal Ronald Greer. It seeks unspecified damages and attorneys' fees. The school district did not return requests by the AP for comment.

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