Fear of a drag planet

For gay teens, high heels and ties can be a political act


Mary Elizabeth Williams
October 20, 2009 11:21PM (UTC)

Remember just yesterday, when we reported that the all-male Morehouse College had banned its students from sporting “clothing usually worn by women”? Or earlier this month, when 16-year-old Jonathan Escobar was sent home from his Georgia high school for being “disruptive” by wearing a wig and makeup? Lest you get too comfortable in the assumption that fear of a drag planet cuts only one way, now a Mississippi girl is being axed from her high school yearbook for sporting a tux.

In her senior portrait, 17-year-old Ceara Sturgis, a senior at Wesson Attendance Center in Copiah County, smiles brightly, her notched white collar and bow tie on display. For following in the black-clad footsteps of Katherine Heigl and Anne Hathaway, Sturgis, who is openly gay, received a letter from school officials that only boys could wear tuxedos and that girls must wear drapes. During a meeting with her principal Ronald Greer, Greer told the girl it was his "conviction" the tuxedo picture would not appear in the school yearbook.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi has now gotten in on the act and threatened legal action if the girl’s photo is not accepted. The school so far is still holding its ground on the matter. Copiah County school Superintendent Ricky Clopton released a statement last week that the Wesson school’s “position is not arbitrary, capricious or unlawful, but is based upon sound educational policy and legal precedent."

In response, Sturgis, a soccer-playing honor student, told a local news station recently, “It’s crazy… I figured I’ve been going there for thirteen years, they would put it in the yearbook. But I guess I was wrong.”

The sartorial scuffle comes the same week that that a staggering 53 House Republicans sent a letter to the Obama administration demanding the ouster of Safe and Drug-Free Schools czar Kevin Jennings. In the letter, the representatives accused Jennings, the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of “promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools — an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children.” And FOX News, reliably never letting facts get in their froth,  today managed to leapfrog their way from Jennings to Harry Hay to an “admiration for men closely tied to the group North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).”  

What sort of values are these representatives really concerned Jennings is instilling in kids? A story on today’s conservative CNSnews.com fumed that in a 2000 speech, Jennings opined that “Our curriculum at kindergarten, and first grade, and second grade -- every grade until students have graduated -- should be: you must respect every human being regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender identity, regardless of race or religion or any arbitrary distinctions we make about people.”

While respect seems like exactly the sort of thing any compassionate parent would want from their children's education, Jennings’ word “arbitrary” is a loaded one. Distinctions are rarely arbitrary. How we distinguish ourselves tells the world exactly who we are. That's why it matters. When is wearing lipstick a radical act? When is a bowtie revolutionary? When a kid faces getting kicked out of school or expunged from the yearbook for that choice. Ceara Sturgis said last week that “All I want is to be able to be me.” That’s political statement. It just happens to be fashion one as well.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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