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Cross-Dressing Teen Denied Yearbook Photo

JACKSON, Miss. - Veronica Rodriguez describes her daughter, 17-year-old Ceara Sturgis, as "a perfect child": a straight-A student, a goalie on the soccer team, a trumpet player in the band and active in Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Sturgis also is gay and feels more comfortable in boys' clothes, her mother says. So Rodriguez supported her daughter's decision to wear a tuxedo, rather than the drape customary for girls, when she had her senior portrait made in July. Now she is battling officials at Wesson Attendance Center in the Copiah County (Miss.) School District. Rodriguez said she received a letter from the school in August stating that only boys could wear tuxedos and have since refused to include the photo in the school yearbook.

The conflict is one of several this year involving how school districts handle cross-dressing students.

"The yearbook is not for the parents or the teachers. It's for the students," Rodriguez said. "She's not a troublemaker. She is gay."

Superintendent Ricky Clopton said the school district's attorney has assured him they are within their rights to exclude the photo.

Sturgis said she has received support from classmates and people around the nation. "It's really an amazing feeling," she said.

The Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union warned the district that they are violating Sturgis' constitutionally protected freedom of expression, legal director Kristy Bennett said.

Candace Gingrich of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said it is not uncommon for LGBT students to clash with school officials on this issue. "It's a matter of self-expression," she said. Other school conflicts this year:

- In Waldorf, Md., a Westlake High senior was denied the option of wearing a tuxedo for her yearbook photo. Her mother complained, and the school reversed the decision after discovering other schools had allowed it, schools spokeswoman Katie O'Malley-Simpson said.

- In Dunnellon, Fla., a 16-year-old boy was sent home in March for violating Marion County School District dress code by wearing makeup, high-heeled boots and a bra. The policy on the district website states that students must dress "in keeping with their gender." Kathy Richardson, of the school district, said the boy's cross-dressing was an isolated event.

- In Lebanon, Ind., school officials in March reversed a ban on cross-dressing when a female senior decided to wear a tux to the prom. The girl sued the district, but the issue was settled when a "gender-neutral" policy was adopted. "We were OK with making that switch," Lebanon High Principal Kevin O'Rourke said.

In Sturgis' case, the deadline for yearbook photos was Sept. 30. Rodriguez hopes the school will reconsider.


(Contributing: Marquita Brown. Joyner and Brown report for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.)

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