The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

She wore a tuxedo for her senior portrait. The yearbook left her photo out.

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The black velvet, V-neck drape that the young women were required to wear just didn’t feel like her.

Holley Gerelds wanted to wear a tuxedo for her senior yearbook portrait, instead. The photographer said it was fine, she recalled. Proofs show her smiling in a black jacket and bow tie.

But when the Alabama graduate perused her yearbook on Thursday, she told The Washington Post, she had to flip to the last page to find her name — misspelled “Geralds” and listed without a photo, under the heading “Not Pictured.”

“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always worn masculine clothing,” she said, explaining that she wore a tux to prom. “That’s what I’ve always been comfortable in.”

With the omission, Springville High School became the latest school to come under fire for censoring portraits over dress codes that many argue are arbitrary and archaic, keep students from expressing themselves or reinforce gender stereotypes.

Mike Howard, superintendent of the St. Clair County School District that includes Springville High, told The Post that Gerelds’s school has always required female students to use drapes — the black, V-necked garments common in grad photos — for their senior portraits, while male students don tuxes.

“Yearbook guidelines are developed by each school and the County has not micromanaged those decisions,” he wrote in an email. “However, moving forward all procedures will be reevaluated.”

A composite photograph of Springville High’s Class of 2019 will include all students who had portraits taken, “regardless of their choice of attire,” Howard said in a statement last week. And a page of the yearbook will be reprinted to show all students and fix the misspelled name.

Gerelds, who is lesbian, said she was not surprised that her photo was left out — not because of anything her school had done previously, but because she’s used to seeing reports of “LGBTQ+ people getting harassed and sometimes even killed, always discriminated against.” She says she didn’t do anything to merit being left out of a high school keepsake; she paid and showed up on time for her photograph, which was shot last year.

Her first reaction on seeing the bungled name and missing picture was to laugh, tweet and move on.

But people who saw her post later told her she shouldn’t accept the omission. Media outlets picked up the story, and another social media user posted a template of a letter people could send to the school in protest. By Saturday, Gerelds said, Springville’s principal had called her parents — Gerelds wasn’t home — to apologize, saying that Gerelds was always welcome at the school and had been well-spoken in her interviews.

Gerelds said she never intended for her story to blow up online, and she emphasized that she does not want to disparage her school, Alabama or the South, as some people reading about her yearbook photo have.

She’s glad, though, that the district is now reconsidering its rules.

“That’s honestly all I wanted,” she said. “I just wanted the school to change the policy.”

She joins a long list of students who have pushed back on school rules about what they can wear in formal pictures.

Female students at a public high school in Utah were dismayed in 2014 to find their yearbook portraits edited to align with a dress code that calls for “modesty.” Raised necklines, added sleeves and removed tattoos that students said were applied only to girls’ portraits led many to denounce the school’s practices as sexist — echoing concerns over the years and at schools around the country that dress codes often single out girls for scrutiny with labels like “inappropriate” and “distracting.”

“I feel like they’re shaming you, like you’re not enough, you’re not perfect,” sophomore Shelby Baum, whose picture was altered, told the Associated Press.

In 2013, a tuxedo was also at issue when a Texas school refused to put a transgender student’s portrait in its yearbook, because the teen’s failure to wear feminine clothes violated “community standards.” A civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, threatened legal action on behalf of Jeydon Loredo, who said he just wanted his outfit to capture his gender identity.

Controversies over yearbook attire go beyond questions of gender lines: Earlier this year, a student complained of censorship after a “TRUMP Make American Great Again!” slogan was scrubbed from his picture.

But Gerelds was focused on breaking down gender-related restrictions when she said she hopes her incident means future students will get to choose between the tux or the drape. She’s been hearing from strangers thankful for her story.

“They told me that it’s helped them accept themselves,” she said.

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