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Portrait of girl in tuxedo omitted from Catholic school’s yearbook

Friday, May 16, 2014
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SAN FRANCISCO — A Catholic high school in San Francisco came under fire on Friday for refusing to include a portrait of a female student wearing a tuxedo in the school yearbook.

Jessica Urbina

Jessica Urbina

Students at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory high school wore ties over their T-shirts and dresses on campus to protest the administration’s decision to omit senior Jessica Urbina’s photo.

Katie Emanuel, who said she was Urbina’s girlfriend, also was wearing a tie to support her friend.

“I support my girlfriend. I support my school and want it to be the best it can for people like us,” she told reporters.

Jessica had her portrait taken last fall and elected to wear the tuxedo jacket and black bow-tie made available to boys instead of the black off-the-shoulder drape offered to girls.

Principal Gary Cannon told reporters that the controversy was a good learning opportunity for students but stressed that Sacred Heart is run in accordance with Roman Catholic Church teachings.

“Straight, gay, bi, transgender, they are all welcome in Sacred Heart Cathedral and at the same time we’re going to be clear in terms of being a Catholic institution and what the Catholic Church teaches on how do we live out that faith in a meaningful way,” Cannon said.

Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, said that if Sacred Heart receives state funds it could be violating a new law that prohibits schools from denying students access to sex-segregated activities and programs on the basis of their gender identity or a gender non-conforming appearance.

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“This appears to be a clear case of discrimination based on gender expression and discrimination based on sex,” Turner said. “They are saying that boys can wear a tuxedo in their photos and girls cannot.”

The exclusion of Jessica’s portrait also could violate Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination at schools, she said.

“It’s hard to imagine what policy reason they would have for forcing a student to wear clothing they are uncomfortable with,” Turner said. “It seems very, very far removed from any possible arguments around religious tenets related to sexuality.”

The school posted a statement on its website Thursday saying “it is always regretful when a student portrait is omitted for any reason” and that staff members “will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all students are included in the future.”

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