On Tuesday, the Caddo Parish School District in Shreveport, La., released a statement that said, “Caddo Parish stands by the First Amendment right of students to express themselves, and that belief is supported within the [school board’s] approved dress code policy.”
The victory was well-deserved for Kami Pham, 19, a senior at Southwood High School who fought to wear makeup, a wig, and heels in her school photo and at her graduation ceremony May 9.
After Pham had submitted her yearbook photo — which featured her wearing a bright pink shirt, jeans, a black wig, and makeup — her yearbook adviser informed her that Principal Jeff Roberts said the pictures were “too feminine.” Pham was given the option of finding a new photographer and paying for a new picture in one business day.
“I was given no notice to redo a photo someone else had a problem with,” Pham tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Plus, I took those photos almost one year ago. No one said anything to me until last month.”
What’s more, Pham’s friend Tatjana Cotton tells Yahoo Lifestyle that teachers are accustomed to Pham’s look. “She wears nail polish and bright colors to class,” she says.
A few days later, Pham intercepted Roberts in the hallway and asked if she could wear heels, a wig, and makeup to her graduation ceremony. She was told her request went against the school dress code.
However, when Pham and Cotton reviewed their dress code on the school website, it was clear Pham hadn’t violated any rules.
In late March, Cotton and a group of friends launched a petition, “Stop LGBT+ discrimination in North Louisiana schools,” that contained an open letter to Roberts and acquired almost 5,000 signatures.
“Our principal since 2010, Jeff 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 stated. “Roberts, citing a nonexistent rule in the Caddo Parish Student Handbook and Southwood High School Dress Code, claimed that Kami’s photographs were not to be printed in our yearbook or displayed on our senior wall, because she chose to wear a wig and ‘feminine’ attire, which Roberts went on to deem ‘inappropriate’ for someone whose birth certificate identifies them as male.
“We also demand that Kami be allowed in our yearbook, as well as on our senior wall, as well as a formal apology from Jeff Roberts for discriminating and violating the first amendment rights of a student and abusing his authority as principal.”
A representative from the school did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
“I thought we were going to get around 100 signatures,” says Pham. “It felt good to get that much support and made me push harder.”
On Tuesday, Pham was granted a meeting with the student council president and brought along a former employee of the American Civil Liberties Union for backup. “We pretended she was my grandmother,” Pham says.
A few hours later, Pham received an email confirming that her chosen photo will run in the yearbook. She’s also looking forward to wearing heels, makeup, a wig — and a tuxedo — to her graduation ceremony.
“What I did was good for LGBT people,” Pham says. “They shouldn’t be afraid to be themselves.”
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