Alex Blaze

Teen sues Mississippi high school over gender policing

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 17, 2010 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: ceara sturgis, men, Mississippi, picture, poll, sexism, women

Another Mississippi lesbian high school student is suing her school for taking away part of her senior year:

ceara-sturgis.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi today filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi high school that excluded a female student's name and senior portrait from the yearbook rather than publish a photo of her in a tuxedo. The lawsuit charges that Ceara Sturgis was unfairly discriminated against by the Wesson Attendance Center based on her sex and unfair gender stereotypes.

"I went to school with my classmates my whole life, and it hurts that I'm not included in my senior yearbook as part of my graduating class," Ceara said. "I never thought that my school would punish me just for being who I am."

She didn't want to wear the women's drape, so the school erased her from the senior part of the yearbook, not even putting her in as "unpictured."

Ceara explains why she didn't wear it:

Ceara was an honor student and a member of several sports teams at Wesson, where she attended school from kindergarten through her senior year. At home and at school, she dresses in clothing that is traditionally associated with boys, and had previously not encountered any problems from her peers or teachers. When she had her formal senior portrait taken, she opted to wear a tuxedo, rather than a drape that gives the appearance of wearing a dress or a blouse. Because of her attire, the school refused to publish her photo and name as part of the senior year class.[...]

Ceara tried posing with the drape, but felt extremely uncomfortable and had her mother request that she wear the tuxedo instead. The photographer permitted Ceara to do so. It was only after the portrait was taken that the principal informed Ceara that he would not allow the photo to be published. Despite efforts to resolve the issue by Ceara's mother and the ACLU, Ceara received her yearbook without her portrait, or even her name, included in the senior class portrait section.

I don't remember girls in my high school having to wear anything special in senior photos or boys having to have tuxes instead of just ties (it was Indiana, so...). I'd hazard a guess that the dress code serves absolutely no purpose but has been around for a long time so she's going up against a vague conception of tradition, which isn't always meaningful when an authoritative body is forcing it on people.

In related news, Americans know this is a problem:

Among all American adults, 63% agree that the U.S. still has a long way to go to reach complete gender quality. While three-quarters of women (74%) agree with this, so do just over half of men (52%). By comparison, when this question is posed to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adults, 73% say the U.S. still has a long way to go, including 95% of lesbians (an especially notable finding when compared with 74% of heterosexual females.)

It's not at all surprising that lesbians are more acutely aware of sexism than others.

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Wow, that last study clearly omits the bis and trans folks. It even uses a binary gender system and a binary sexuality system (straight vs gay). It pisses me off when people use LGBT when they really just mean cis gay and lesbian. What do bi people or non-binary people trans people (and binary trans people, who might not like to use the M/F paradigm) think? This study doesn't tell use jack about that. Cis LG people don't represent all of us. We invisible bi and trans folks have opinions on the matter of sexism too, not that anyone seems to care...

Hi Cat, I live in DC and have a lot of friends in the polling and statistics fields. I have talked to them about these kinds of polls/surveys and they say that it is so difficult to find people who will identify as being in those groups that statistically they are irrelevant. I know that is no excuse, but numbers are what numbers are, it has nothing to do with people's feelings when studies are being conducted. I would say that the Bs and Ts need to be more vocal with the big companies who do this type of polling in order to convince them that even though there is a smaller percentage of folks who do identify as B and T, that having qualitative data would be more useful than quantitative data from those groups. Getting your voice heard may be easier if you can tell your story rather than just being part of a percentage.

I just gotta say that it's rather odd that the blogs and fora are filled with trans and bi folks, and yet they are "so hard" to find.


Perhaps the statisticians aren't reaching out in the right ways.

Could make for an interesting poll...

I'm with you on this. They just plain aren't reaching out hard enough. Labeling an entire group as "statistically insignificant" certainly doesn't help any.

I've taken statistics before, I know how the numbers game works. But the data is only half the story. What's equally important is how you gather the data—both in how you find people to poll, and in how you phrase the questions.

With underrepresented communities, it's almost never about pure numbers. It's about poller convenience (tying in with social privilege) and a lack of interest in groups that take more effort to reach out to.

Wouldn't anyone who is gay or lesbian say they were regardless if they were trans or cis? It was broken down three ways, LGBT, Lesbian and Gay. The B and T are in the LGBT. It's not that they're not counted, it's that they weren't counted separately.

Besides, this is a Harris Interactive poll which doesn't have the greatest reputation anyway. They do their surveys on the Internet.

The survey seems so irrelevant. The fact that someone can arbitrarily exclude a student from the yearbook because of attire proves we've a long way to go.
The article says the ACLU is suing the school, Does that mean the school district?
WHO EXACTLY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS DECISION? Is it the principal alone or a group of teachers and/or administrators?
Nothing can ever make up for this injustice to Ceara Sturgis. But someone should be made to pay.

It's disgraceful how our public school system, which is responsible for providing an education, instead shames and traumatizes our children in the process.

Ah, Mississippi. The armpit of America.

My armpits are both insulted by that comment. Just saying.

The armpit of America? Come on! You know it's lower than that!

there is a reason we are last in LGBT.... we take the most heat, have the least support, and until recently studies of trans persons have been all but non-existant!

We indeed have a loooong way to go.

Many Blessings,

Is Ceara Sturgis cis or trans? Was she excluded from the yearbook because of her sexual orientation or her gender expression?

I haven't read anything anywhere about her being trans (either transmasculine or transfeminine). It looks like she was excluded because of her gender expression, although I'd say this is probably one of those cases where the two become conflated. I doubt no one in the administration made (correct) assumptions about her sexuality and based their decision on that.

If she had worn the drape-for-girls, they wouldn't have excluded her from the year book.

I think the way LGBT people perceive butch lesbians is drastically different from the way society at large does.

The students took their yearbook portraits at a studio and Sturgis tried on one of the "drapes" that females students are required to wear.

"The thought of a portrait of her in the 'feminine' clothing as a representation of her senior year embarrassed her, and she began crying," the lawsuit states.

Everyone thinks butch lesbians are overflowing with self-confidence, and that's what allows them to be all rebellious against gender norms. But it's just that it's more humiliating to be forced to wear feminine clothing when you're not feminine. It feels wrong. And you know everyone is trying to make you be more feminine to put you in your place.

People discriminate against butch lesbians specifically for being mannish. People aren't really threatened by the idea of two women having sex, but a mannish woman that they imagine has sex with women the way a man would freaks people out.

Discrimination based on gender identity or expression, sex and sexual orientation intersects for butch lesbians, and you really can't separate them. It is always all at the same time.