An Alabama high school will take steps to address the yearbook staff’s decision not to publish a photo of a female student wearing a tuxedo following outcry.
The student in question is named Holley Gerelds, and she graduated this year from Springville High School in the Alabama town of the same name, a suburb of Birmingham. Most female students wear a black dress for their yearbook photos at the school, but Gerelds felt more comfortable in a tuxedo. She had previously worn a similar outfit to the school prom without issue.
Nobody expressed misgivings about the attire when the photo was taken. But at the end of the school year, Gerelds discovered that her name had been misspelled and the photo missing. In its place were the words “not pictured.”
That kicked off a wave of social media backlash, attracting the attention of national media.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always worn masculine clothing,” Gerelds said in an interview with the Washington Post published Sunday. “That’s what I’ve always been comfortable in.”
When asked for comment, St. Clair County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard released a statement claiming the portraits were taken “in accordance with long-standing school guidelines,” but those guidelines are being re-evaluated.
In addition, Howard said a replacement page would be printed to correct the misspelling and include the image.
Howard did not explain what the specific policy governing yearbook dress code is, what the re-evaluation process would be, or who made the decision to omit Gerelds’ photo.
For her part, Gerelds is taking the controversy in stride and said she hopes students will be granted more latitude in their attire in the future. She claimed the school had been a generally tolerant environment up to this point and that the superintendent had personally called her to apologize.
This is far from the first time a school has struggled with dress code policy for gender nonconforming students. A decade ago, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of Ceara Sturgis, whose photo was also removed from her yearbook after she wore a tux. In an op-ed published on the advocacy group’s website, the Mississippi student said she had never been a “girly-girl.”
“When school officials exclude or deny benefits to girls who do not conform to gender stereotypes from school activities, they ratify and reinforce outdated views of the relative qualities of men and women,” the ACLU added in a brief filed in Sturgis’ case.
The school district settled the case and agreed to print the photo after a court denied their request to dismiss the lawsuit.