La Feria Independent School District Risks Federal Lawsuit
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) demanded today that the La Feria Independent School District allow Jeydon Loredo, a transgender student and senior at La Feria High School, to appear in his high school yearbook wearing a tuxedo or risk a federal lawsuit against the Texas school district.
The demand was made in cooperation with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, after both organizations authored a letter of guidance earlier this month in an attempt to resolve the matter absent litigation. HRC president Chad Griffin was contacted by a member of the Loredo family for assistance on the matter, and HRC subsequently enlisted the legal support of SPLC. Both organizations have partnered to assist Jeydon and his family. The demand letter can be found at http://sp.lc/17TyU4Y.
The demand comes after the school board refused to take action on an appeal by Loredo at a public meeting Monday night, where Jeydon appeared with his mother and representatives from SPLC and HRC. The district superintendent previously forbid the publication of a photo of Jeydon wearing a tuxedo in the yearbook, saying that publishing the photograph would violate “community standards.” Jeydon, who was born female, now identifies as male with the support of his family and friends, and should be recognized as such.
"This denial reminds us that outdated stereotypes concerning sex and gender still serve as an excuse for schools to deny students their rights,” said Richard Cohen, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “SPLC is working in communities across the South to fight these battles, and is delighted to join with the Human Rights Campaign to protect young people who are victims of discrimination."
The SPLC has said it will take legal action if the school board does not confirm in writing by Nov. 21 that Jeydon’s tuxedo photo will appear in the yearbook.
“The school district should know better. True community standards of equality and respect require that the District publish Jeydon Loredo’s tuxedo photo in the yearbook,” said Alesdair Ittelson, an SPLC staff attorney. “Denying Jeydon the opportunity to wear gender-appropriate clothing is discrimination. When districts apply different standards to students like Jeydon, they violate the law. The district seeks to erase Jeydon’s identity and his contributions to the community by removing his gender-appropriate photo from this important high school milestone.”
The letter describes that refusing to include the photograph violates the student’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the First Amendment. It also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which protects the student from discrimination, as well as Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex by any educational institution receiving federal money. Refusing to publish the photograph would even violate the school district’s own anti-discrimination policies.
Jeydon has been a model student at La Feria High School. He has never been called to the principal’s office or had any disciplinary issue. After he was photographed in a tuxedo for the yearbook, school district officials instructed the photography studio to withhold the photo from the Loredo family, who had already paid for it.
District Superintendent Rey Villarreal told Jeydon’s mother and HRC vice president Fred Sainz that featuring Jeydon’s tuxedo photograph would offend “community standards” and that Jeydon’s photograph would only be included if he wore stereotypically feminine attire, such as a drape or blouse. He said that if Jeydon had a problem, that he could “appeal it to the school board.”
“The La Feria School District’s ongoing attempt to force Jeydon back in the closet is not only deeply harmful to him personally, it sends a dangerous message to LGBT young people throughout the community that they are better off hiding their true selves,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “It is unconscionable that the school district is going out of its way to single out Jeydon because he’s transgender. This appalling and senseless behavior must not be tolerated.”
Before this week’s board meeting, the SPLC and the Human Rights Campaign urged the board to support Jeydon’s rights in a letter citing the legal and scientific basis for such a decision. Though Jeydon was born female, his gender identity – his internal sense of gender – is male.
Every major medical and mental health organization in the country recognizes that gender identity is distinct from biology. The fact that Jeydon was raised a girl does not make his male gender any less real. Courts have held that it may be a violation of civil rights laws to refuse to allow even a female student who identifies as female to wear a tuxedo in a yearbook photo. Yet, the superintendent has refused to even refer to Jeydon by his male name in written communication with the student despite the student’s request to be referred to as Jeydon Loredo in all written communication.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Jeydon, represented by legal counsel, spoke about his desire to have the photo included in the yearbook. He and his mother also spoke. The board went into closed session, but no decision was made. Following the closed session, the superintendent informed the SPLC that there was no formal timeline for taking action.
The superintendent then told representatives from the HRC that the “only formal way to address it” was through filing a disciplinary grievance form, though the district’s own policies state that a gender discrimination complaint against the superintendent is made directly to the school board. Complaints made through a disciplinary grievance form, as the superintendent requested, would put the superintendent – the target of the complaint – in charge of the investigation’s early stages.
For more information about this case visit http://sp.lc/HR6iNz.
Jeydon's tuxedo photo is available here: http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com//files/images/blog/jeydon.jpg
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The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.