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Lesbian student unable to wear tux in yearbook photo
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Lesbian student unable to wear tux in yearbook photo

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Ceara Sturgis, a 17-year-old openly Lesbian honor student, was told by school officials she could not wear a tuxedo in her high school yearbook photo, igniting a discrimination battle that could lead to a Mississippi court room.

According to news reports, everyone at Wesson Attendance Center knows Sturgis is Gay. Classmates say she's never tried to hide it.

For high school yearbook photos, traditionally, males wear tuxedos and female students dress in drapes. When Sturgis, a top student, trumpet player and soccer goalie, wanted to take her senior photograph dressed as the boys do, school officials balked.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi has gotten involved, giving the school until October 23 to respond to a letter they sent to the school's principal demanding they print the photo of Sturgis in her tuxedo or they will pursue with court action, said Kristy L. Bennett, the ACLU's legal director.

For Sturgis, the yearbook photo is particularly important because she is graduating this year. She said she should get to decide how she wants to look in her senior photo.

"I feel like I'm not important, that the school is dismissing who I am as a Gay student and that they don't even care about me. All I want is to be able to be me and to be included in the yearbook," Sturgis said in a statement.

Veronica Rodriguez, Sturgis mother, said school officials are trying to force her daughter to appear more feminine. She said her daughter doesn't even own a dress.

"The tux is who she is. She wears boy's clothes. She's athletic. She's Gay. She's not feminine," said Rodriguez.

The photo in question, according to Rodriguez, was taken over the summer instead of with the other students, but was taken by the same studio the school uses for yearbook photos.

In August, Rodriguez said, she received a letter from the school saying that it was their policy that only boys could wear tuxedos. After a meeting with the assistant superintendent, who told her he didn't see regulations about the issue in the student handbook, Sturgis principal Ronald Greer told Rodriguez it was his "conviction" that Sturgis wouldn't appear in the yearbook in a tuxedo.

The ACLU is saying the teenager's constitutional rights are being violated. Bennett said similar cases, including same-sex prom couples and girls wearing tuxedos to proms, have been successfully challenged in court in other states. "You can't discriminate against somebody 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," Bennett said.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education, there's no state policy that deals with the yearbook photo issue.

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