La Feria, TX high school senior Jeydon Loredo just wants to have his picture in his high school yearbook. But La Feria Independent School District Superintendent Rey Villareal has a big problem with that. You see, Jeydon was born and raised to be female. But, like transgender people everywhere, that didn't take.
Villareal has told Jeydon's mother that Jeydon can have his picture in the yearbook only if he wears stereotypically feminine attire, like a blouse or a drape. The superintendent does not take responsibility for this decision, however. Having only been in the job for four months, he says he is deferring to Jeydon's principal. Villareal says the student handbook is clear: the suitability of each photo which appears in the yearbook is subject to the judgement of the principal. Jeydon's family says that in fact Villareal made the decision, not the principal.
I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve grown up with the kids here. I’ve seen those in my community go through troubles, and denying my tuxedo photo would be a way for the district to forget me and everything I’ve brought to this community. The yearbook is for the students, not the faculty or the administration. It is a way for us to remember each other.
The Laredo family contacted the Human Rights Campaign, which sent representatives to the South Texas community to meet with Villareal along with the Loredos, at which time the superintendent refused to reverse his decision, saying that the photo would "offend community standards" and notifying Jeydon he could appeal the decision with the district school board.
Jeydon and his mother, Stella, decided to go a step further. They retained an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC and the HRC together drafted a letter to the LFISD.
Courts have held that it may be a violation of civil rights laws to refuse to allow even a female student to wear a tuxedo in a yearbook photo. We write to support Jeydon’s appeal, and to provide background that may enable a full understanding of the situation.
Jeydon sent an email to the ISD asking to be on the agenda of the November 11th meeting, but he was denied inclusion, according to his attorney, Alesdair Ittleson. They were able to address the board during the open forum section of the meeting.
Please allow my community to remember me, and to remember me the way I truly am, in the clothes that reflect me: Jeydon Loredo.
As school board members, you don’t get to decide whether transgender students receive the same rights as students who are not transgender. You must treat Jeydon equally and with the respect he deserves. The fact is, you must allow the tuxedo photo in the yearbook in order to remain in compliance with the law.
Ittleson probably is stretching a point there. What there actually is is Supreme Court precedent:
The Supreme Court of the United States holds that when a policy at a public school discriminates against a person based on their sex, the classiﬁcation must serve “important governmental objectives."
Here, there is no important governmental objective served by refusing to allow Jeydon’s tuxedo portrait in the La Feria yearbook.
In McMillen v. Itawamba Cnty. School Dist., 702 F.Supp.2d 699, 701 (N.D. Miss. 2010), a female high school student in Mississippi wanted to bring a same-sex date to prom and wear a tuxedo. The school denied these requests because doing so could "push people’s buttons." When the student sued the District, the Court held that the student’s effort to "communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date" was "the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment."
The SPLC also cites Title IX:
[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the beneﬁts of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal ﬁnancial assistance.
In a recent case in California, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights explained that "[a]ll students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are protected from sex-based discrimination under Title IX."
Finally, the school districts own policy states:
[t]he District prohibits discrimination, including harassment, against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.
Board members went into closed session, but no decision was made. So the SPLC has stepped up its game, sending a demand letter giving the school district a week to comply with Jeydon's request or face a federal law suit.
Jeydon says that the support "makes me happy because all I want is to have my photo in the yearbook." To those standing with him, Jeydon says: "Thank you for your support. I didn’t think 'that' many people would respond. Thank you!"
Both Villareal and school board President Juan Briones have been "out of the office" when reparters have tried to contact them.
Villareal did release the following statement:
It’s a student issue. We’re not going to debate it in the media.
The final deadline for senior yearbook photos is December 9...which happens also to be the date of the next school board meeting.