Mississippi Judge allows suit over annual photo to proceed

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A Mississippi federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by gay teenager Ceara Sturgis over the Copiah County School Districts refusal to include a picture of her in a tuxedo in the high school yearbook's senior section.

Last week, a U.S. District Court denied the dismissal motion filed by the school system.

Sturgis has said she likes to wear masculine clothes and that's why she donned a tuxedo instead of a drape to appear in the 2010 Wesson Attendance Center yearbook.

The ACLU, which the lawsuit on behalf of Sturgis, claimed the central Mississippi school district discriminated against Sturgis on the basis of sex and gender stereotypes. Her photo and name were kept out of the senior section of the yearbook. However, Sturgis' photo in the tuxedo did appear on a personal page in the yearbook that was purchased by her mother.

The suit challenged the district's policy allowing male students, but not female students, to wear a tux for senior portraits. The suit alleges a violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on gender.

The district had said in court documents that Sturgis "has no constitutional right to be included on the senior portrait page of the yearbook in a tuxedo."

Sturgis told The Clarion-Ledger that "the big thing is that Wesson changes its policy."

Her suit asks for unspecified damages and legal costs.

Arthur Evans Jr., a Copiah County school board member and mayor of Crystal Springs, said, "Since it's in the hands of legal right now, we can't comment."

Sturgis, now 19, graduated from Wesson Attendance Center in May 2010.

Bear Atwood, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi, said a mediation conference between the two sides must be scheduled within 30 days of U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan's ruling, signed on Sept. 15. Atwood said no date has been scheduled.

"We're looking for redress for Ceara specifically, but we also want to see elimination of the policy," Atwood said. "It's too late to eliminate it for Ceara, but we want to make sure that other young people aren't faced with the same situation - that is, follow gender norms or you can't be in the yearbook."

After graduating from high school, Sturgis attended Mississippi State University, then Copiah-Lincoln Community College. She now lives in Orlando, Fla., and plans to enroll at the University of Central Florida next year, she said.

Published: Fri, Sep 23, 2011