Louisiana School District Says Transgender Student's Yearbook Pictures Protected Under First Amendment

A transgender Louisiana high school student who claimed her yearbook photos were pulled for being “too feminine” was granted permission by the school district to have the pictures published.

Southwood High School senior Kami Pham, 19, told The Shreveport Times Monday that Principal Jeff Roberts informed her in a private meeting that her senior photos would be withheld from the yearbook and banned from her graduation ceremony. Pham claimed she was told by Roberts the wig and high heels outfit violated the school dress code. But the Caddo Parish School District in Shreveport, Louisiana, issued a Tuesday statement saying students’ First Amendment right to express themselves in what they wear will not be impeded.

Pham said she was given no notice to redo the photos in time to be featured in the senior picture section of the yearbook. Pham’s friend, Tatjana Cotton, told KTBS-TV the issue boils down to “what her birth certificate says” about her gender.

"He's very relaxed with dress code," Cotton said of Principal Roberts. "The chance for someone to get in trouble for dress code is the chance for someone to get struck by lightning."

"I got highly upset," Pham told The Shreveport Times. "What killed me was when my principal had told me that I should not dress after hours. I don't dress inappropriately. When he said that, I felt like I was a prostitute. That was very, very rude."

But after the Caddo Parish School district appeared to trump Principal Roberts’ alleged rejection of the photos, he issued a Wednesday statement to KTBS-TV saying the conversation between he and Pham never occurred.

"In my eight years at Southwood High School, it has been my desire to create an environment in which students felt safe and could excel academically. Over the course of recent days, the positive momentum we have built has been torn down by the false accusations of a student regarding conversations which never took place. I can speak for myself and my staff in stating we never denied this student the ability to have their photo in the yearbook or on the senior wall nor denied the student the ability to walk at graduation. While I have remained silent out of respect for the student, I also must defend myself and my school against claims which have led to threats. I adamantly defend the rights of my students to express themselves and have consistently stated that fact. We at Southwood will continue to conduct ourselves with the utmost integrity and that remains unchanged regardless of the falsehoods leveled against us."

Pham's mother, Deborah Allen, told The Shreveport Times the school's reversal regarding the photos came following a Tuesday meeting attended by Principal Roberts, Pham, a Shreveport LGBTQ community leader, a Southwood counselor, and the student body president. 

Caddo Parish Schools spokeswoman Mary Nash-Wood told Newsweek Thursday that federal and state law prohibits the district from commenting on specific student cases. But she confirmed the district "stands by the First Amendment right of students to express themselves and that belief is supported within the Caddo Parish School Board’s approved dress code policy. This expression is without regard to race, color, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability."

Calls to Southwood High School were not immediately returned Thursday.

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