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ACLU to School Board: Sending 8th Grade Boy Home for Wearing Make-Up Is Not Lawful

| June 13, 2013

Principals may find eyeliner subversive.

Principals may find eyeliner subversive.

Chris Martin is the 14-year-old son of two lesbian moms. He chooses not to define his sexuality. It’s gotten him in trouble before. He’s been teased and bullied at school. On the last day of school a week ago, he put on a shirt displaying an anarchy symbol (a shirt he’d worn several times before, without raising issues), wore black eyeliner, eyeshadow and lipstick and went to Meadowlawn Middle School in St. Petersburg. Claud Effiom, the principal, demanded that he change the shirt and wipe off the make-up.

In a meeting with the principal, Martin’s two mothers–Katelynn Martin and Jamie Himes–conceded that the shirt went against the school’s dress code. But wearing make-up is nowhere regulated. Girls are allowed to wear make-up. Boys are not prohibited from doing so in the student handbook, and if they were, the prohibition would quickly be found to be discriminatory. “The administration will be the final judge about whether a student’s clothing is appropriate for school or whether it will create an environmental climate that is distracting to learning,” the handbook states, leaving silent the matter of make-up. “Individual schools may have additional dress and grooming requirements,” the handbook states, but Meadowlawn Middle does not.

The women made the point to the principal, whose answer, according to the women–and as relayed by the Tampa Bay Times–was that the make-up was “distracting” and, in front of staff or other students and parents “completely ridiculous and unnecessary for boys.”

The district superintendent, Michael Grego, is standing by Effiom’s decision. The district is also saying that the women’s version of the story is incomplete. But it won’t explain, citing student-confidentiality matters.

“I was upset because they wouldn’t let me keep my makeup on, and I didn’t think it was fair that I had to take it off so my family took me home,” Martin himself wrote in a statement recounting the incident.

Chris Martin (Katelynn Martin)

Chris Martin (Katelynn Martin)

Martin’s parents the following day launched a petition drive on MoveOn.org, which by today (June 13) had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures. The petition seeks to encourage creating gay-straight alliance clubs in all secondary schools, make schools “safe and accepting places for all students,” and “sponsor an inclusive curriculum that includes positive images of the LGBTQ community.”

“The petition is something we put together as a family, and I think it’s great and well thought out,” Chris Martin wrote in his statement. “I didn’t think that there were so many people who cared about kids like me, and I’m really happy to see so many people who want to help make things better. I want to make a difference for kids like me.”

Pinellas school district officials, including board members, have circled their wagons around the principal’s and superintendent’s decisions, and stuck by their spokeswoman’s statement about student confidentiality. The case has since drawn international attention.

On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent a letter to Grego, the superintendent, saying that the principal’s action regarding make-up last week was illegal.


“Applying a different rule to Chris because he is male constitutes sex discrimination in violation of the United States Constitution, the Florida Constitution, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of
1972,” the letter states. “Principal Effiom apparently has certain beliefs regarding how boys and girls should present themselves, but school officials may not discriminate based on gender stereotypes.” The letter, written by Daniel Tilley, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, lists numerous legal precedents as basis for the objection. “The fact that a student’s outward appearance is gender-nonconforming does not give school administrators a license to discriminate. The school’s policy regarding makeup must treat all students equally. We hope you will ensure that school administrators in your district adhere to these legal obligations, and we are always available to assist in making schools safer and more welcoming for all students, should you choose to use us as a resource.”

When faced with an egregious case of discrimination, the ACLU will typically send in what amounts to a polite cease-and-desist letter, hoping to resolve the matter amicably. Failing that, the organization often files suit. It was the ACLU’s involvement–following that same pattern–that compelled the Lake County School Board to allow the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School. The board had repeatedly opposed 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein to do just that. The club was able to meet for several weeks until the end of the school year.

GSAs are student organizations made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies that advocate for an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against all students. As a result of the lawsuit, the Carver Middle School GSA has been able to meet regularly throughout the final weeks of the school year.

Last week, the Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to repeal a 2005 ordinance that prevented the county from formally recognizing events organized to celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The ACLU’s Letter to Pinellas County School Superintendent Michael Grego

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13 Responses for “ACLU to School Board: Sending 8th Grade Boy Home for Wearing Make-Up Is Not Lawful”

  1. Ron Hubbard says:

    Is this the wisdom of the teachers and officials in the school system??? If so, I posit the question:; Why are we wasting our time sending our children to school? Clearly, the instructors have lost their moral compass and sense of right and wrong.

    Punishment, sanction and penalization have become the standard method of dealing with students in the progressive left madness that prevails in our schools now.

    It’s not public school to the leftist liberals, it is penal school.

    • Nancy N. says:

      “Punishment, sanction and penalization have become the standard method of dealing with students in the progressive left madness that prevails in our schools now.

      It’s not public school to the leftist liberals, it is penal school. ”

      Well that’s a new one. Because usually the left is accused of being permissive and letting kids run wild. So which is it? Would you all make up your minds, please?

      And for the record, since you seem confused – a “leftist” school administration would have seen nothing wrong with this kid wearing make-up, because the left is generally accepting of gay and transgender rights. It’s the bigoted conservatives who have a problem with stuff like this.

    • Will says:

      Your comments make me wonder what you’re trying to say. It seems like the school authorities do not support the student’s desire to wear makeup. Yet you’re accusing the instructors of losing their moral compass.

      Your message is very confusing, and I’m a leftist liberal.

      I’d let the kid wear the makeup, and be aware of other kids’ reactions to prevent bullying. The GSA is probably a good idea.

  2. Maryjoe says:

    Poor kid is going to have a very long and difficult life.

  3. RG says:

    As silly as it seems equality should go both ways. I would not condone my son to wear makeup, but their are parents that would not condone their daughters to wear makeup to school either . May be cause of their age.

    I still believe that male students should not be prevented from their self expression. Other wise make it school wide to prevent all students from wearing makeup. This principal is going to have to suck it up. Its 2013 and we keep telling our students to be them self and express their beliefs. Teens go threw growing pains and just cause its not our belief doesn’t mean we should stop it. When i was in Jr High we were not allowed to wear jeans nor shorts. How did that make sense? Different is OK its not your boy if his parents are good with it why not?

  4. Magnolia says:

    As long as we are busy calling one another bigoted and other hateful names and our sons are wearing makeup to school, we have more problems than we know and school may be the least of them.

  5. Outsider says:

    So now because the kids are out of the closet we have to let them dress like clowns? This is a waste of time and energy on so many levels, but I’m sure it’s good for the charter and private school business.

    • Magnolia says:

      @ Outsider: Dressing like clowns is why the school board came up with the dress code they have now dropped. What message does that send?

      Dressing for school is important. These children are being taught it is an expression of who they are, of the celebrities they admire and want to be like. Those are the role models we are stuck with.

      They are not being taught that it may prevent them from getting into a good school or being hired for a job.

  6. IMO says:

    So as per the ACLU every boy in the school could show up wearing war paint and Indian war bonnets and that would have to be allowed.

    After all it’s simply makeup.
    http://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/images/iowa-warrior-4.jpg

    Right. Sure. Why not.

  7. Someone says:

    Lets punish a guy who wants to wear make up instead of serious things. Way to go

  8. sonny says:

    why would he want to wear makeup anyway he’s not a girl

  9. Geezer says:

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s, we rarely encountered classmates like this.
    In my group we liked GI-Joe and Action Jackson – not Barbie and Ken.
    Being a cowboy or maybe a fireman one day were things I dreamed about in 1960’s Brooklyn, NY.
    I loved my Johnny Lightning and Hot-Wheels cars, my James Bond (007) attaché case
    that fired grenades out the side. My friends made sling shots, we’d throw plastic man parachutists
    into the air and watch them descend safely, as balsa gliders were hurled into the air.
    We’d “walk the dog” with our Duncan Yoyos or play some Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.
    How about those dart guns that shot a suction cupped dart? I bagged many an annoying cousin or uncle.
    Our club allowed girls, and we played “doctor!”

    If we saw boy wearing makeup, it would not have gone well for him.
    I don’t condone it, but I wonder how a boy wearing makeup doesn’t catch a beating on a daily basis.

    Man, things sure have changed.

  10. Grandmother says:

    Why would a boy want to wear makeup? I’m asking because my grandson is wearing eyeliner occasionally to school. His parents discussed and said it was okay, maybe not so much by his father, but they want him to be able to express himself. He is such a nice kid. He is in 9th grade, is in advance classes.. I think he is as straight as they come. He has a sort of girlfriend. He is learning guitar and likes a scream band that wears all sorts of makeup. He is not goth nor emo. I’m afraid he will be an outcast at school or ridiculed.So far I guess he hasn’t.

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