Members of the transgender community have joined the critics of Clovis Unified’s strict dress code, saying it’s discriminatory and harmful to students.
The school district’s current policy forbids boys from wearing long hair and earrings and says dresses are for girls.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called for a dress code that sets a single standard, regardless of a student’s gender, but the school board rejected those recommendations in January. The ACLU is also pushing the district to drop the use of the word “exotic” to describe makeup and hairstyles, saying it perpetuates otherness and discrimination.
The board is set to revisit the gender-neutral proposal next month.
At a school board meeting on Wednesday, Karen Adell Scot, a former Clovis Unified teacher who is transgender, said the dress code has the potential to seriously hurt transgender or non-gender-conforming students.
“This dress I’m wearing tonight, and my hair and makeup and earrings, could not have been worn by a student who needed to transition. My hope tonight is Clovis Unified will understand that in order for a transgender student to avoid suicide, they need to be able to transition when they feel it – they don’t need to go to the district and say, ‘Hi, may I please have a waiver to put on my makeup?’ ” Scot said. “Do you know of any African American student that has to go to the district and ask for a waiver to be African American?”
A Fresno State student who graduated from Clovis West High School (who gave his name when this story was published in March but has since asked to be referred to only as Mr. Love), said he was not accepted by the school district as a transgender person and is concerned about current students.
“I wasn’t able to feel comfortable dressing the way I wanted to because of how staff and students treated me. I had to go back and forth between wearing female and male clothing, which is essentially the concept of going back in the closet, because I was being yelled at,” Love said. “I had to force myself to be a girl for a very long time, and I tried very, very hard to be feminine. I finally realized what a transgender person was, and that nothing was my fault and that nothing was wrong with me.”
Zoyer Zyndel, chair of the advocacy group, Trans-E-Motion, is a graduate of Clovis West. Zyndel said that as a student, administrators made his struggle harder instead of easier.
“I was told that if I didn’t wear that or act this way, then I wouldn’t be made fun of. The message communicated to me was as a trans person of color, I did not have a place in this community,” Zyndel said. “Policies and laws were made to protect citizens, but how does long hair and makeup hurt you? How does our gender expression really change your life?”
Trustees had little to say about the policy, which they will reconsider on April 6.
“Your comments, while some complimentary and some derogatory, are all appreciated. We realize you are passionate about your concerns, and that’s what makes a strong community and district,” board president Christopher Casado said. “(Trustees) will use careful consideration and research in order to cast a thoughtful and responsible vote.”