FLORIDA — When Nicole Youngblood asked to trade in herscoop-neck drape for a tuxedo, Robinson High School administratorsdrew the line. Now the high school senior is suing the HillsboroughCounty School District for creating and enforcing what she calls a gender-biasedsenior portrait policy for the school yearbook.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a complaint June19 alleging violations of both state and federal sex discriminationlaws, as well as constitutional violations of Youngblood’s rightto free expression.
"I don’t understand why this is such a big deal to them,"Youngblood said in a press release from National Center for LesbianRights, the nonprofit law firm that is representing her. "Thisis how I dressed in school every day. I even wore a tuxedo toa school dance. This is 2002, not 1802. No female student shouldbe deprived of the right to be in the yearbook because she doesnot want to wear a frilly drape."
Youngblood and her mother Sonia showed up at the photographystudio and requested that Youngblood wear a shirt and tie insteadof the drape. The photographer refused, citing a school policydrafted by the principal and the yearbook staff that requiresall females to wear the drape.
"It’s pretty clear that sex stereotyping is sex discrimination,"said Karen Doering, Youngblood’s attorney.
"There’s this stereotype notion of what female studentsare supposed to look like at this school district, and they’veformalized this stereotype into their policy," Doering continued,citing another case earlier this year at Bloomingdale High Schoolin the same district.
In the earlier incident, Bloomingdale’s principal agreed tolet two girls to wear pants beneath their graduation gowns afterpressure from local and national civil-rights groups includingthe National Center for Lesbian Rights.
At Robinson, Youngblood and her mother petitioned to vice principalDavid Fyfe, but he and principal Kevin McCarthy both stood behindthe school’s policy. Fyfe offered Youngblood the opportunity tobuy an ad in the back of the book for her picture, but she refused.
School district spokesman Mark Hart declined to comment becausethe case is in litigation.
The book was published without any picture of Youngblood. Accordingto Bryn-Alan Photographers, Robinson students are now wearingcaps and gowns in their senior photos for the yearbook.
According to Doering, Youngblood is filing because she knowsof other students at Robinson who object to the school policyof wearing drapes.
"For Nikki, the damage is already done," Doeringsaid. "Her senior yearbook was already published, she’snot in it, and they didn’t even mention her name in the index. It’s as if she never even went to that school."
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