A transgender high school senior reportedly barred from her school’s yearbook over her gender presentation will be featured along with her classmates after a Change.org petition and a media firestorm. But school officials say they never discriminatedto begin with.
Kami Pham, a senior at Southwood High School in Shreveport, La., says Principal Jeff Roberts told her that her photo would not be published in the yearbook because she wore a wig and “feminine” attire while the gender marker on her birth certificate says “male.”
“It was shocking [because] we hardly have dress code violations in general on campus,” says Pham’s friend Tatjana Cotton, who helped her launch a social media campaign to overturn the decision. “So it was shocking that Kami was getting called out.”
According to a Change.org petition backing Pham, Roberts told Pham in March that her photo was “inappropriate” and wouldn’t be published.
“A principal at a high school in Louisiana has decided at the last minute to cut a transgender senior’s picture from the yearbook,” the petition states. “The principal also threatened not to let the student walk at graduation if she dresses similarly to her photo.”
The petition has picked up 4,500 signatures as of publication. The reports stirred a national media sensation and widespread support for Pham, with LGBTQ outlets and national press picking up the story.
But a spokesperson for the district says the school fully supports Pham presenting how she identifies.
“The photo is able to be published as well as there was never any grounds in regard to [the] graduation [story],” says Mary Nash Wood, a spokesperson for Caddo Parish Public Schools. “In regard to the district’s stance on this, we’ve been very clear with our schools as well as our community that we see the rights of all students as including their ability, when it comes to dress, as a part of their first amendment rights to freedom of expression.”
Wood says privacy concerns prevent her from going into too many details about Pham’s case. But she said the controversy arose when school officials attempted to confirm that the photo was one that Pham preferred.
“The photo was questioned to ensure that it was the photo that Kami would like to be used and in that, the principal chose to meet with Kami this morning to discuss that,” Wood said.
Following the meeting, both Pham and the district confirmed to INTO that the photo would be published in the yearbook.
Pham said she felt “amazing” with the outcome.
“Finally it makes it in!” she tellsINTO.
Asked to confirm or refute the district’s version of events, Pham said affirmed that the photo would finally be published but declined to say if district officials gave a dishonest account of what originally transpired.
“I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” she said, “Me and my friend know what is true.”
But Pham encouraged INTO to reach out to a teacher a the school. As of publication, the teacher had not responded to a request to comment.
Cotton, however, does refute the district’s version of events.
“They are definitely being dishonest, because Kami posted about the situation a few times before we decided to take action and start our online petition,” says Cotton.
Caddo Parish Public Schools serve 40,000 students, according to Wood. She says transgender students are not new to the district. She was unable to say if schools had previously dealt with yearbook photo issues.
Wood added that Pham would be offered a choice in graduation gown options, which are color-coordinated, according to gender.
“At this time, Kami is saying that she would like to dress in female attire and so we’re honoring that just as with any other student from our graduating class,” Wood says.