A transgender Louisiana student will be allowed to dress how she wants at her high school graduation and appear in her school’s yearbook after community and online support pushed back against a discriminatory decision by the school.
According to the Shreveport Times, Southwood High School senior Kami Pham, 19, was initially told her senior photos would not be published in the school’s yearbook because her presentation “violated the school dress code” and made her appear “too feminine.”
Pham also said that principal Jeff Roberts, after rejecting her senior photos, told her she couldn’t wear a wig, heels, nor makeup to the school’s graduation ceremony. She said he expressed his disagreement just before spring break, while they were talking in a hallway before class one morning.
“I got highly upset,” Pham said. “What killed me was when my principal had told me that I should not dress after hours. I don’t dress inappropriately…When he said that, I felt like I was a prostitute. That was very, very rude.”
“I was given no notice to redo a photo someone else had a problem with,” Pham later told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Plus, I took those photos almost one year ago. No one said anything to me until last month.”
The senior photos in question show Pham wearing a pink polo T-shirt, jeans, flip-flops, a wig, and makeup. In photos shared with the Times, Pham posed alongside a wall, and in another, she’s kneeling in front of a white car.
Tatjana Cotton, a friend of Pham’s, said Roberts is usually “very relaxed” with dress codes, and told the publication, “The chance for someone to get in trouble for dress code is the chance for someone to get struck by lightning.” Cotton also told Yahoo Lifestyle that teachers were accustomed to Pham wearing nail polish and bright colors to class.
In response to Roberts’ decision, Cotton helped generate support for Pham’s photos to be included in the yearbook and on the school’s wall of senior pictures, creating a petition on Change.org.
The petition, signed by “Southwood Students,” argues that nothing in the 2017-2018 handbook prevents Pham from wearing what she did in her senior photos, nor at graduation, and that the restriction on Pham is a violation of Title IX. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began rolling back 2016 protections for transgender students last year.
“[Roberts] believes in a bigoted ideology that those in the LGBT community are not welcome here, and will not be able to find a place at Southwood,” the petition reads. “We have already contacted legal groups who will help us if legislation is not put into place on a district level to protect the rights of gender non-conforming students. Kami may not have been the first, but we for sure want her to be the last.”
The petition, which began one week ago, garnered 2,500 signatures within days and totaled over 4,600 signatures as of this writing. Then, 15 hours ago, the petition arrangers shared a statement from Southwood’s district, Caddo Parish Public Schools, showing that the community and online support helped overturn Roberts’ decision, allowing Pham to present how she wants in her senior photos and during the graduation ceremony.
The Times reported the reversal came during a Tuesday meeting between Roberts, Pham, Pham’s mother, Shreveport LGBTQ leader Deborah Allen, the school counselor, and the student body president. The district’s statement ensured that it stands by Pham’s First Amendment right to express herself and her beliefs within the dress code:
“Recently allegations have been made concerning the rights of transgender students at Southwood High School and schools in our district. While federal and state law prohibits the district commenting on individual student cases, the district’s position is clear: Caddo Parish stands by the First Amendment right of students to express themselves 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.”
Pham told the publication that after graduation she may attend a community college with plans to become a stockbroker and that she’s hoping to save money for gender confirmation surgery. Along with her tuxedo, Pham’s planning on wearing heels, makeup, and a wig to her graduation.
“What I did was good for LGBT people,” Pham told Yahoo. “They shouldn’t be afraid to be themselves.”