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 told a local news outlet. Proofs show her smiling in a black jacket and bow tie.
But when the Alabama graduate perused her yearbook last week, she said, she had to flip to the last page to find her name — listed without a photo, under the heading “Not pictured.”
“I hate to say it, but I’m used to it. I saw it coming,” Gerelds told WVTM.
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 Washington Post that Gerelds’ school has always required female students to wear drapes 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 took portraits, “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 a misspelled name.
Gerelds, who according to WVTM is part of the “LGBT community,” said that she “did nothing wrong” to merit being left out of a high school keepsake. She paid and showed up to her photograph, shot last year, on time.
She joins a long list of students who have pushed back on schools’ 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, who had her picture 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 gendered restrictions when she said she hopes her incident means future students get to wear what they want.
“If it makes you happy, then do it,” she said.