Transgender Student Fights to Wear Tux in Year Book Photo — and Wins

Earlier this month, an 18 year-old transgender student fought and won a battle to wear a tuxedo in his yearbook photo, despite his school’s initial reaction that the photograph would not conform with “community standards.”

As reported, the South Texas school refused to allow high school senior Jeydon Loredo to wear his tuxedo in his senior photograph because “they were a conservative school” and as a consequence,  his “photograph would be included only if he wore feminine attire, such as a drape or blouse.” As discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, yearbook photos have frequently been a locus for regulating students’ gender expressions, but the administration’s reasons often do not justify their actions because of First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause protections.66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Joining Jeydon and his family, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote the school district officials a demand letter, describing how the refusal to include the photograph “violates the student’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the First Amendment. It also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which protects the student from discrimination, as well as Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex by any education program receiving federal money. Refusing to publish the photograph would even violate the school district’s own anti-discrimination policies.” The Center then threatened a suit against the District if they did not make a decision to include the photograph of Jeydon in the tuxedo within eight days.

Shortly after receiving the Center’s demand letter, the District came to a resolution that it would allow the photo, saying the decision was “in the best interest of the student and the school and the community.”

But as the Center said in a recent Press Release, the District allowing the photograph is much larger than just the best interest of Jeydon and the community — it sends the message “that transgender students should be recognized as important members of their communities rather than ostracized and subjected to discrimination.”


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Prison Denies Rastafarian Man Dreadlocks

As reported, on a weekly basis, Georgia correctional officers force Bryan Kawand Sims to cut his hair and shave his face, an act that Sims alleges violates his Rastafarian faith. So last month, when the prison denied Sims a formal exemption to the prison’s hair prohibition, Sims filed federal suit against the Baldwin State Prison, alleging the policy violates federal law and Sims’s 1st and 14th Amendment rights.

As stated in his pro se complaint, before filing suit, Sims met with the prison chaplain to provide evidence to the prison regarding the sincerity and tenets of his beliefs. Shortly after their last meeting, however, Sims was “locked in a cage” where he refused to shave his chin area because it would “violate his religious beliefs.” In the cage, an officer threatened to deprive Sims of access to the law library and then eventually “muscled down” Sims in order to shave Sims’ “hair and face … by force.”il_570xN.433978548_41b2

Sims is now forced to shave or cut his hair on a weekly basis in accordance with the prison’s grooming policy. As stated in the Baldwin State Prison’s Offender Orientation Handbook, the prison prohibits “the growing or wearing of the hair on the head long enough to extend onto the collar of an ordinary shirt, cover any part of the ears or eye brows, or to be longer than three (3) inches on top.” The prison also bans incarcerated persons from having “goatees, beards, and similar facial adornments.”

Sims has alleged multiple claims in his handwritten complaint. First, by denying Sims’s religious exemption, the Prison “refuse[d] to recognize the Rastafarian religious practice of the sacred dreadlocks … and ordered [Sims’s] hair be clipped and chin be shaved, immediately denying defendant to his [federal statutory] rights and his protection under the 1st and 14th Amendments.” Sims also alleges multiple claims for the verbal and physical harassment he has suffered over his refusal to cut his hair, including explicit and blatant disregard for his religious preferences and for the actual or threatened physical force officers use to shave, or force Sims to shave, his head and face.

For relief, Sims wants the prison to recognize his Rastafarian faith, and “specifically provide a religious exemption profile permitting [him] sacred dreadlocks to grow 3-feet and prohibit the cutting of specifically the chin area.” He has also requested compensation for court fees and mental anguish from the constant harassment of the correctional officers. 

As discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, courts have found that in order to avoid violating a person’s constitutional rights, a prison must to make accommodations for religious reasons, but the considerations of those rights will be balanced against any safety and other concerns the prison may put forth, making Sims’s chances for relief uncertain as he begins the second year of his life sentence.  

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Prison Prohibiting Natural Hair for Religious Ceremony

Unlike prison policies justifying removal of fake hair, the Fifth  Circuit Court of Appeals has questioned a Texas prison’s prohibition on natural hair to be used in a religious ceremony.michaelunit

As recently reported, a Texas prison denied William Chance’s request to use two small locks of his deceased parents hair in a Native American ritual known as “Keeping of Souls.” After Chance’s parents passed away, he made the request for the locks in order to “honor them properly” as prescribed by his faith. Housed in a special unit designed for Native American religious believers, Chance is among a population of approximately “85 prisoners who participate in Native American religious activities about twice a month.”  The ceremony would involve “4-inch locks of [his parents’] hair about as thick as pencil lead.”

But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) denied Chance’s request, saying that he could only possess items available for purchase through an approved vendor or the commissary. Interestingly, unlike the desired locks for the ceremony, Chance was able to secure a medicine bag with horsehair through these “proper” channels.

In response to the denial, the Texas Civil Rights Project took up Chance’s case, arguing that the prohibition “violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which bars discrimination or unduly burdensome restrictions on individuals and religious organizations.”


Reviewing the case last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided the lower court erred when it found, on summary judgement, that the prohibition does not violate federal law. Favoring Chance’s argument, the Court said that “a small lock of hair is no more capable of being soaked in drugs than the letters in a prisoner’s mail,” and the hair could be inspected and tested. The Court also noted that “TDCJ permits Native American prisoners to possess such objects as a bone or a tooth, which are apparently not available for purchase from traditional vendors.” So, why then the ban on hair? Subsequently, the Court remanded the case for a lower court to properly decide whether the prohibition of the locks is “the least restrictive means of furthering TDCJ’s compelling interests.” The trial date is set for January.

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Isis Brantley and Her Ongoing Battle for Hair Braiding Justice in Texas

In 1997, natural hair stylist and hairbraider activist, Isis Brantley was arrested for braiding hair without a barber license, a crime under Texas law. She challenged her arrest, and the Texas legislature eventually created a separate licensing scheme for hairbraiders.

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Isis Brantley

16 years later, Brantley is back in court — this time, filing federal suit against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. According to Brantley’s complaint, Texas law would require her to “spend 2,250 hours in barber school, pass four licensing exams, and spend thousands of dollars … all to teach a 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum” to her students. She alleges that the law violates her 14th Amendment Due Process, Equal Protection, and Privileges or Immunities rights, as the 14th Amendment was designed to “protect economic liberty” and prevent unreasonable government interference “with the right to earn an honest living in one’s chosen occupation.”

In filing the suit, Brantley joined forces with the Institute of Justice, a well-known libertarian law firm, producing the video below. She also published a piece in Huffington Post, “Hairbraiding is the Latest Civil Rights Struggle.”  Like other civil rights struggles, litigation in the court of public opinion may be just as necessary as in traditional legal forums.


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Weaves as Weapons: Texas Jail Removes All “Fake” Hair

A county jail in Texas recently made news when Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano commented publicly about the jail’s policy of “removing [inmates’] fake hair.” The jail requires “male and female inmates … to relinquish weaves, wigs and toupees” for reasons of “safety and security” and “the inmate’s personal hygiene.”  And Sheriff Cerliano estimates that they confiscate hair “pretty regularly” as the jail houses 11,000 people every year.

Per standard policy, an arrested person must turn over all personal property before she is placed in general population housing. At Gregg County Jail, a person’s property includes “artificial hair integrations.” When she is released, the jail will return her hair along with all her other property.


According to Sheriff Cerliano, an arrested person may remove her hair voluntarily, but Texas law gives staff the right to remove her hair for her, and even “the authority to cut [her] hair if [they] have to.” The Texas Administrative Code on Jail Standards states, “whenever clearly justified for health or sanitary reasons, the sheriff/operator may require a haircut” of the person.

In justifying the policy, Sheriff Cerliano told reporters that weaves specifically can be used as a weapon for someone to cause harm to herself or others. He also warns that hair can be used for storage and concealment of contraband. As discussed in Dressing Constitutionally, courts have often found this rationale convincing, but have also found that accommodations can be made for religious reasons or that the concerns have less force depending on the person’s gender.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has received several anonymous complaints about the removal of hair at Gregg County Jail. But Sheriff Cerliano says the policy is applied “without regard to race or gender” — it “applies to male, female, white, black, Hispanic and any other national origin. It’s not about race.” Regardless of that statement, one might still wonder who is asked if her hair is fake, thus triggering the policy, and who is not asked. 

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Man with Dreadlocks Sues Government Employer over Gendered Hair Policy

Last month, Richard Williams filed suit against the Georgia Department of Corrections after he was fired for refusing to trim his hair.

As reported, Williams worked for the Department for over 10 years as corrections officer. During that time, he began to grow his hair longer, and for the last for 5 years the length of his hair went down his back.

According to Williams’s complaint, in June 2010, the Department Chief told Williams to “consider cutting [his] hair.” A month later, dreadlocksafter being asked again, Williams refused, saying “I do not plan to cut my hair and forcing me to do so would violate my indelible rights, religious beliefs and spiritual faith.” 

Then, in January of 2012, the Department passed a new policy stating, “males will not adorn dreadlocks or braids and hair shall not extend over the top of a shirt collar.” Two days later, Williams was told “to leave work, get a hair cut and return to work within two (2) hours.” He refused, and in February, the Department reduced his pay by 5% and required Williams to turn in all of his Department issued equipment. Williams then filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

As discussed in the Dressing Religiously chapter of Dressing Constitutionally, incarcerated persons have successfully used religious arguments to challenge dress codes prohibiting dreadlocks, albeit with some difficulty. But in his EEOC filing, Williams alleges that he was discriminated against because of his race, sex, and in retaliation, rather than religion. He adds that “African American males as a class are adversely impacted by respondent’s Dress Code and Appearance Policies.” Shortly after the filing, Williams’s employment was terminated.

After reviewing Williams’s claim, the EEOC found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act gives Williams a right to bring a civil action. Representing himself, Williams has filed a civil suit against the Department in federal court. And now, at the very least, the Department may have to justify why it forbids men and allows only women to have dreadlocks, braids, and longer hair styles in light of the equality claims asserted.  Although differences in men and women’s hair lengths have often been upheld, the rationales for such differences are more and more tenuous.

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D.C. Health Department Attempts to Curb Spontaneous Tattoos

The Washington D.C. Health Department has proposed regulations that mandate a 24-hour waiting period for anyone seeking a tattoo.

Recently released, the 66-pages of draft regulations “ensure that no tattoo artist applies any tattoo to a customer until after twenty-four (24) hours have passed since the customer first requested the tattoo.” It additionally bars businesses from accepting deposits for future work.

Florence_Tattoo_Convention_(5158666726)Several business owners have expressed serious concern over the proposed regulations. One tattoo shop owner told reporters that the provisions are an “attempt to put us out of business.” Another stated that “the art of tattooing is protected under the First Amendment … and constraints on customers’ freedom to decide how and when to exercise that right could be constitutionally suspect.”

A spokesperson for the Health Department commented to the press that the regulations are intended to protect the public from “serious health risks.” She added, “We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning … saying, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’”

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“Pants-Only” Policy Upheld Against Free Exercise Claim in Retaliatory Termination Case

Can a public employer require a woman to wear pants, even against her religious beliefs?  In its brief opinion in Finnie v. Lee County, Mississippi, a panel of the Fifth Circuit left that question unanswered given the particular circumstances of the case.

After working for a Mississippi Sheriff’s Department for years, Ms. Crystal Finnie converted to the Pentecostal religion, which she told the court, meant she could no longer wear “‘clothing pertaining to a man’s garments,’ such as pants.” But her employer, the Sheriff’s Department, required pants as part of the uniform and told Ms. Finnie that she would have to “wear pants or resign.”IMG_8172_Edit__07235.1364412413.1280.1280

Shortly after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and requesting a transfer to a clerical position where she could wear a skirt and keep her job, Ms. Finnie was fired.

She then filed suit. She argued that the policy violated her First Amendment right to exercise her religion, “constituted unlawful gender and religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and amounted to unlawful retaliation under Title VII.”

But the underlying question was whether Ms. Finnie was terminated as retaliation, and the Fifth Circuit panel held that she did not meet the burden to show she would not have been terminated “but for” her EEOC complaint.  Yet the opinion does not clarify whether her dismissal based upon her religious objection to the dress code would have been actionable.

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Florida Schools Ban Their Own Cheerleader Uniforms

At the end of last month, public schools in Pinellas County, Florida banned their own cheerleader uniforms in classrooms because the uniforms violate the schools’ new dress codes.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 12.45.44 PMAs reported, the ban is part of a “broader crackdown” to enforce the dress code and administrators will no longer turn a “blind eye” towards the fact that the cheerleaders’ uniform, typically worn to class on game days, violates the dress code.

Questioning why the uniforms are “suddenly too vulgar,” many cheerleaders and their supporters have reacted strongly to the switch from short skirts to track pants. They question why too much teenage thigh and academics don’t mix for the school year of 2013, despite the uniform being classroom appropriate for years.

But the administration has been staunch in their position, with one principal telling reporters that, though the skirts may be appropriate during the game, “a school has another purpose, and that’s academics.” The pushers of the policy also say the ban promotes egalitarian skirt length among cheerleaders and non-cheerleaders.

For now, one school in the district found an obvious compromise: longer cheerleader skirts.

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Leggings too Provocative? More on School Dress Codes

Back to school wearing leggings?  Perhaps not.

Highland High School of Salt Lake City, Utah posted several images on facebook and twitter to guide students on how to appropriately wear leggings to school —


As reported, the administration now requires that students cover up between the waist and thigh with another layer of clothing when wearing leggings. Though an outright ban has yet to happen, if the school deems a student’s leggings to be too tight, the student is given sweatpants and a T-Shirt saying “I Love My Administrator.”

Unlike past fashion trends of the youth involving too much skin showing (e.g., mini-skirts, spaghetti straps, etc.), leggings do not directly expose one’s body. However, as Assistant Principal Nelson told reporters, “Sometimes, they can be so tight that there’s really nothing left to the imagination.”

The actual dress code standard requires that clothing be of “modest design” and prohibits “provocative” dress.

Reactions have varied, but several students question the tightness of male athletic uniforms and have also commented that several teachers wear the tightly fitting pants. Others have noted that the school does not ban discrimination against LGBTQ students.

Seemingly unfazed by these points, the administration continues to focus on the trend of young women, finding the form fitting pants just too provocative for an educational environment.


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