Education International
Education International

USA: Yearbook controversy highlights challenges of inclusive schools

published 30 May 2014 updated 10 June 2014

EI has strongly condemned the fact that 18-year-old Jessica Urbina, who wore a stylist tuxedo in her high school portrait, was told by school officials that her picture would not appear in her class yearbook due to the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s rule that girls must appear in dresses for yearbook photos.

Masses of students - both girls and boys - wore ties to class in solidarity with Jessica on 16 May and her brother ran a Twitter campaign, #JessicasTux, to support her, attracting supportive messages from around the world.

Jessica’s girlfriend, Katie Emanuel, was one of the tie-wearing students, and said: “I support my girlfriend. I love my school, and I want to make it as good as it can be for people like us.”

On 19 May, the San Francisco Catholic high school, Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) Preparatory, issued an apology to Jessica and announced a reversal in their dress code policy.

Progress still to be made in terms of inclusion

In this public statement, the school president and principal formally apologised to Jessica and her parents and wrote that “Jessica’s senior portrait will appear in all the same venues as all other senior portraits”, and that “the school administration decided to reprint the yearbook to include Jessica’s photo in the portrait section”.

The statement continued: “We agree with our students who showed solidarity with their classmate that the current policy regarding senior portraits is not adequate to meet the needs of our families or our mission. We will involve our students, families, and Board in crafting the updated policy.”

The school officials said that while many gay and lesbian alumni and students have commented on the inclusive, supportive aspect of the SHC Preparatory school community, others have remarked on some prejudice that still exist.

They also acknowledged that “as a school, we must better learn how to support our students who are navigating issues of gender identity”.

In the USA also, Ashton Lee, a transgender teen from Manteca, California, was forced last year to face a fool’s choice: deny the truth of his identity and take the girls-only dance class required of him by his high school administrators, or say goodbye to a high school diploma.

Lee lobbied state legislators to pass a bill requiring that California students be permitted to participate fully in sex-segregated school activities, programs, and sports that match their gender identity, regardless of what might be listed on a student’s records. Shortly after Lee personally delivered 5,700 petition signatures to Governor Jerry Brown, the School Success and Opportunity Act was signed into law.

Lee was listed in the next generation of social justice activists by the National Education Association, one of EI national affiliates.

EI: Equal access to education for all

EI commends Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory for providing a supportive and inclusive environment for all of its students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “This is precisely what we promote with our Unite for Quality Education campaign: to achieve their full potential, all students must have access to quality teachers, as well as quality teaching and learning tools and environments.”

EI and its affiliates fight gender stereotypes. It also campaigns to promote policies and practices in its schools and teacher training which bring rights and dignity to male and female learners and educators experiencing any form of neglect, discrimination, hostility, violence, hatred, hostility, sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia, he added.

If you would like to read the 1998 EI Resolution on the protection of the rights of lesbian and gay education personnel, please click here

The 2011 EI Resolution on respect for diversity can be downloaded here