Hear Me Out
|Not So Pretty in Pink
When 18-year-old Kelli Davis went to get her senior picture taken for her high school yearbook last September, she, like most prospective graduates going through the ritual, was excited about memorializing her high school experience in the most fundamental record of those days: the yearbook. She couldn't know then that the innocent and innocuous decisions she would make about her appearance that day would turn into an overblown ordeal mixing gender identity and homophobia, and ending with her getting cut out of one of the most precious pieces of memorabilia graduates take with them from high school: a picture in the yearbook.
Accompanied by her mother, Cindi Davis, A registered nurse, Kelli Davis, an out lesbian at her school, reported to Cady & Cady studios, which had been contracted to take photos for the school. The studio provided one of two choices for the photo shoot: either a black drape, or a tuxedo top. As Davis stood watching the young woman ahead of her, she made her decision: she wanted to wear the tuxedo.
"Hey, if it's good enough for Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver, it was good enough for me," Davis says of the tux look, according to information provided by the Tampa Bay Coalition, a gay rights group in Tampa, Fla.
But the tuxedo look was anything but good enough for Sam Ward, the principal at Fleming Island High School, the suburban school in the state's growing northeast Clay County from which Davis will graduate this year.
As early as October, Kelli Davis heard rumors around school that her photo wasn't going to appear in the yearbook because she had opted to don the tuxedo top instead of the black drape.
When Kelli's mother got wind of this, she was perturbed. She asked her fianc, Scott Boggs, a neurosurgeon, to call the principal and find out what was going on.
According to Boggs' account of events, the school principal, Ward, was congenial, but said he couldn't discuss the matter with Boggs because he wasn't Kelli's legal guardian. Instead, he promised to get back to Cindi Davis quickly with a solution.
"I felt the tuxedo issue was benign, a minor matter," Boggs told the Tampa Bay Coalition. "He chose to escalate it to a major problem."
It was another month before Cindi Davis heard back from the school. When she did, the word was that her daughter would indeed be excluded from the Fleming Island yearbook because her picture was not "uniform."
Shocked at what she called a preposterous decision to exclude her daughter from the yearbook for such a trivial reason, Cindi Davis says she questioned the school's principal about his decision, suspecting it had more to do with homophobia than "uniformity." But, she says, Ward wouldn't budge from his position.
That's when Cindi Davis did the only thing she knew as a mother desperate to help preserve her daughter's high school memories.
If the school wouldn't run Kelli's photo in the regular section with the other students, Cindi Davis decided, she'd buy an ad and place Kelli's photo in the book herself.
The day the principal called Cindi Davis and told her that her daughter's picture was being cut out of the yearbook was also the last day to place an ad in the journal.
Cindi Davis wrote a check for a full-page ad and rushed it to the school.
There is no written rule in the Clay County school district guiding dress code for senior yearbook photos, but the school's superintendent and school board have supported principal Sam Ward's decision. On Feb. 25, the school board held a hearing into the matter, at Cindi Davis' request.
But in the end, the school board declined to take any action to reverse the decision to keep Kelli Davis and her bow tie out of the yearbook, telling the press that school principal's have wide latitude to make the rules, and that the school board isn't in the business of vetoing every decision a principal makes.
Cindi Davis was able to get school lawyers to agree the $350 paid ad of her daughter in a tuxedo will stay in the yearbook.
"I don't understand what she's going through," as a lesbian, Cindi Davis says. "But my job as Kelli's mother is simply to love and support my child unconditionally, and I do."
The keepers of the school system continue to insist that Kelli Davis is not being discriminated against because she is a lesbian.
Her picture won't be in the regular section of seniors in the yearbook, they say, because she is wearing boy's clothes instead of girl's clothes.
But regardless of their rationalizations, school officials can't dress up the discrimination against Kelli Davis in any other way.
In their minds, blue is for boys and pink is for girls, and that's that. What frightens them most about Kelli Davis is that she is acting like a boy in the most non-uniform possible way: by being a lesbian.
Boys are supposed to like girls and girls are supposed to like boys. But Kelli Davis and the millions of gay and lesbian high school students across the country don't fit into this tidy, "uniform" definition of sexuality. And to school officials, that's exactly why Kelli Davis' picture doesn't fit in with the rest of the graduates at Fleming Island High.
Sadly, Kelli Davis's situation is not unique. Every year, similar stories surface in the press about schools trying to bar gay, lesbian or transgender kids from the yearbook or a school activityor in some cases, even from attending classes because of their clothes.
With all the problems that schools and school kids face todayfrom lack of reading comprehension to drug trafficking in the hallsit seems beyond ludicrous for school officials to get hung up on whether Johnny is wearing makeup, or Alice is wearing a tie.
But in too many of America's schools, it's still true that blue is for boys and pink is for girls.
Thank goodness for brave souls like Kelli Davis who are courageous enough to choose lavender.
Mubarak Dahir, editor of The Express, the GLBT newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 2 March 11, 2005