Students showed up wearing neckties and bowties to a private San Francisco Catholic school on Friday in support of a senior girl who wore a tux in her school photo – a photo they believe won’t appear in the yearbook. And their outpouring of support prompted the school to change it's future yearbook policy on dress codes.
"I've seen all these people with all the ties," said Jessica Urbina, the young woman at the center of the controversy. "Honestly, I've cried multiple times. I'm overwhelmed with all the support."
The love comes after about 24 hours of a social media blitz prompted by Urbina's brother, Michael, and many of her classmates who don't think it's weird that Jessica took her yearbook photo in the fall wearing a tux. She dresses in traditionally male clothes "all the time," the said.
But on Thursday, Michael Urbina said someone from Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory told him that his sister's picture would appear "altered" in the yearbook.
That possibility sparked not only the ties but also a hashtag campaign, #JessicasTux, by her supporters as they rallied to support her on Friday. Late in the day, after not giving much detail about how Jessica would appear in the yearbook when it comes out next week, the school issued a statement: "These events have sparked a campus-wide dialogue which will result in a revision of policy."
Urbina's classmates' campaign comes as support has coalesced nationwide in recent years for students who have faced discipline for breaking dress codes on campus, and as the nation grapples with changes, and challenges, to gender norms.
"Students should be able to wear a tux regardless if they are male or female," said American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California attorney Elizabeth Gill. "Schools shouldn't make students conform to outdated norms of what boys and girls dress like, not taking into consideration who they are."
The ACLU has not been called in to help with this matter, but the agency has fought - and even won - on behalf of students who attend schools that receive state or federal funding and who have discriminated based on gender stereotyping.
— Michael Urbina (@michael_urbina) May 16, 2014
Earlier in the day, the school, for its part, did not give a definitive answer on whether Jessica's image will appear altered in any way.
Principal Gary Cannon said he couldn't say much, citing a student's right to privacy, but indicated that he had previous talks with Jessica about what was allowed in the photo, and what was not.
According to the school policy regarding yearbook photos, girls must wear “drapes,” and boys must wear a shirt, tie and jacket.
Cannon did insist Jessica was in the yearbook, though he wouldn't comment exactly how she would apear. The school's website reads in part: "As we prepare to pass out yearbooks it is always regretful when a student portrait is omitted for any reason. As a community we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all students are included in the future."
While finding out exactly how Jessica will be remembered as she looked in the Class of 2014 isn’t fully known, what is clear is that she has many friends who support her dressing in a way traditionally associated with men -- something they say she does “all the time.”
On Twitter, friends said they wanted to show how their former high school “the errors of its ways,” and that “Jessica roks!!”
Certified $uperwoman tweeted: “Hope every student shows up with a tie on at S.H. cuz it sends a message to Archdiocese that they are the ones teaching hate. #JessicasTux.”
— JustBae (@Jsaligumbaa) May 16, 2014
The tuxedo issue in San Francisco has similar echoes from coast to coast. In March, the ACLU sued on behalf of gay students in San Bernandino County who had been told they needed to wear "gender-specific" attire for prom and yearbook photos.
That's similar to a case four years ago in which the ACLU sued a high school in Wesson, Mississippi, for excluding Ceara Sturgis’ name and senior portrait from her yearbook because she had worn a tux. In 2011, her family settled with the district, adding her photo - in a tuxedo - to the wall of senior photos and changing its senior photo policy.
And in 2010, Sarah Lloyd was finally allowed to wear a tuxedo in her yearbook photo, after a battle between school board members in Arkansas.
In the Bay Area, friends and strangers alike rallied behind Sasha Fleischman after the teen - who was born a biological boy but identifies with neither sex - was severely burned when somebody set "their" skirt on fire on a bus in November. Supporters paid tribute to Sasha's freedom to express their gender identity by dressing up in skirts and covering the city in rainbows. Sasha prefers to be referred to in the plural.
Tatiana Richardson wants her friend, Jessica, to feel that kind of support.
That's why she helped create the hashtag campaign to get her peers to wear ties to school. She showed up to campus in a bright pink bowtie.
“I know this goes against tradition, but times are a-changing," Richardson said outside school. "It’s not just 'boys and girls' now, there is so much more. They teach at this Catholic school to be who were are, to accept everybody, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Tatiana Richardson, a friend of Jessica Urbina's, who wore a tie to school to support her friend who wore a tux in her yearbook photo. May 16, 2014.