A principal at a high school in Louisiana has decided at the last minute to cut a transgender senior’s picture from the yearbook. The principal also threatened not to let the student walk at graduation if she dresses similarly to her photo.
Southwood High School Principal Jeff Roberts said that Kami Pham’s photo could not be included because she’s wearing “feminine attire” and a wig. This, he claims, violates the school dress code because it’s inconsistent with her birth certificate.
But nothing in Southwood’s dress code confirms this. Indeed, it is entirely gender-neutral, with no relevant specifics about how hair can be worn. It’s impossible to conceive how Kami’s jeans and polo outfit could possibly violate the code.
One of Kami’s friends, Tatjana Cotton, told KTBS, “If I wore that same outfit, there would be no problem; no one would say anything. So why treat Kami any different just because of what her birth certificate says?” Indeed, this suggests a clear violation of Title IX protections on the basis of gender.
Kami learned the photo would be banned from the yearbook two weeks before its publication. Roberts also threatened that if Kami wore her wig or high heels to graduation that she would not be allowed to walk.
Tatjana has organized a Change.org petition along with some other students to rally support for Kami. In an update posted Monday night, she explained the petition is about protecting Kami and all students who might “come after her.” She wrote, “What we want is an apology and a rule change for all students so they can express themselves regardless of the gender on their birth certificate,” Tatjana wrote. At school, the students plan to pass out “We Stand with Kami” stickers.
So far, neither Roberts nor the Caddo Parish School Board has publicly commented. Kami is reportedly meeting with Roberts Tuesday morning and plans to express her concerns at a school board meeting later this month.
LGBTQ and gender non-conforming students have been particularly vulnerable to the kinds of gender policing that target yearbooks, proms, and graduation. In 2014, for example, a Catholic school scrubbed a student’s photo because she wore a tuxedo. In 2012, a member of a Tennessee school board led a protest over an article from the yearbook called, “It’s OK to be Gay” that led to a teacher losing his job.
UPDATE: Tatjana announced Tuesday on the petition page that the school board had issued a decision respecting Kami’s identity. Her photo will be included in the yearbook and she’ll be able to dress according to her gender identity at graduation.
“Caddo Parish stands by the First Amendment right of students to express themselves,” the district’s statement read, “and that belief is supported within the Caddo Parish School Board’s approved dress code policy. This expression is without regard to race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
UPDATE: Principal Jeff Roberts issued a statement claiming this incident was based on “false accusations”:
In my eight years at Southwood High School, it has been my desire to create an environment in which students felt safe and could excel academically. Over the course of recent days, the positive momentum we have built has been torn down by the false accusations of a student regarding conversations which never took place. I can speak for myself and my staff in stating we never denied this student the ability to have their photo in the yearbook or on the senior wall nor denied the student the ability to walk at graduation. While I have remained silent out of respect for the student, I also must defend myself and my school against claims which have led to threats. I adamantly defend the rights of my students to express themselves and have consistently stated that fact. We at Southwood will continue to conduct ourselves with the utmost integrity and that remains unchanged regardless of the falsehoods leveled against us.