At Clyde High School and its sibling schools within the Clyde Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, girls may choose to wear nail polish to class or not, as they please. It’s a matter of course; it’s not seen as inappropriate for a girl to paint her nails.
But have a gay male student paint his nails, and suddenly the sky is falling.
That’s what happened to 17-year-old Trevor Wilkinson, a student at Clyde High School, who received an in-school suspension for daring to return from Thanksgiving break with a killer manicure.
From the school’s perspective, the problem could be fixed easily enough with a bit of nail polish remover. But from Wilkinson’s perspective, the problem isn’t his nail polish; it’s the school’s controlling, regressive, and discriminatory attitudes about masculinity.
Rather than back down, he created a Change.org petition and called on his school to get rid of the discriminatory and outdated gender rules in the school dress code:
Today, I got ISS (in-school suspension) for having my nails painted. I was told that I will continue to get ISS until I take them off. It’s a complete double standard because girls are allowed to paint and get their nails done. Not only that, but freedom of expression is validation enough that the dress code and policy is not okay. I am a gay male and I’m beyond proud. This is unjust and not okay.
As of yesterday, the petition had garnered over 115,000 signatures and counting.
In response to media attention, District Superintendent Kenny Berry released the following statement:
The district conducts a diligent and thoughtful review of the dress code on an annual basis. That review process results in the development of a final dress code that is consistently implemented and enforced during the next school year.
Questions or concerns with the dress code are reviewed individually, and the district cannot share any information regarding specific students. The district appreciates the feedback and input on this issue received from members of the community, and will take this into consideration when it conducts its annual review later this school year.
The issue, Wilkinson contends, is that the dress code isn’t consistently implemented; there are different rules for male and female students, and gender norms are strictly enforced. While anybody can feel stifled by that pressure to conform, unsympathetic teachers and administrators can and do use selective enforcement to create a hostile environment for LGBTQ students, whose very existence is often seen as an affront to gender norms.
So from Wilkinson’s perspective, his brightly-colored nail polish is more than just a fashion statement. It’s deeply connected to his gay identity and his process of self-acceptance:
The fact that I’m even painting my nails right now means so much to me and it shows my growth. I would not change who I am for the world and I’m learning to fully love myself and be comfortable in my own skin and sexuality and I think that is an amazing thing.
Wilkinson enjoys the support of his great-grandfather, who is also his legal guardian. Leroy Wilkinson says his great-grandson’s nails are harming no one, and the school should “just drop it” so students can get on with the business of learning, no matter the color of their fingernails.
(Image via Twitter. Thanks to Som for the link)