When Holley Gerelds showed up to take her senior yearbook photos at the end of her junior year last year, she skipped the black velvet drape traditionally worn by female grads and put on a tuxedo instead.
“I’ve worn suits for as long as I can remember. I wear them to school,” the 18-year-old, who is a lesbian, told BuzzFeed News. “I’ve always worn masculine clothing, it’s just what I’m more comfortable in and I feel like it expresses me more.”
The photo session went off without a hitch, and she paid and left. However, she was shocked when she opened her yearbook for the first time Thursday to find her picture not included. Instead, she was listed under the “not pictured” section — and her last name was spelled wrong.
Gerelds, who just graduated from Springville High in Alabama, said she’d heard whisperings that her photo might get cut. But no one said anything to her, so she didn’t think it was true.
When she realized the rumors were true, Gerelds was pretty upset. This is the first time she’s felt like she’s been discriminated against for being a lesbian, she said.
“I know that’s kind of shocking to some people because I live in the Deep South in the Bible Belt, but other than a few dirty looks when I go out, I’ve never received any discrimination or hate from my school or my city or even the state of Alabama as a whole,” she said.
Gerelds tweeted about what happened, and there was a massive outcry against the school. Many people said they would call and email school administrators.
“It is so sad that in 2019 a PUBLIC high school thinks it’s okay to discriminate against an LGBT student like this,” one person tweeted. “Shame on you, Springville High School in Alabama.”
The public shaming was effective. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, St. Clair County Schools Superintendent Mike Howard said the yearbook page would be reprinted with Gerelds’ photo (and correct name spelling).
“I understand that the senior portraits taken at Springville High School during the last school year were taken in accordance with long-standing school guidelines,” Howard said. “We are in the process of reevaluating those guidelines to consider what changes, if any, need to be made.”
Gerelds’ photo will also be included in a composite photograph of her entire class, which will be hung in the halls as per school tradition.
“I can confirm that the composite photograph of the Springville High School Class of 2019 will include all students that participated in the senior portrait process, regardless of their choice of attire,” Howard said.
Gerelds said she’s happy with the outcome — as long as it means there will be meaningful change for everyone.
“I guess it’s enough for me personally because I just wanted to be in the yearbook with my classmates and to be on that wall, but it’s not enough if it happens to someone else,” she said. “That’s why I’m happy to be speaking out about it — because I don’t want anyone else to go through this.”
And she’s not letting it sour her feelings of her school and hometown — or even the people who had a role in her original exclusion from the yearbook.
“I still have a lot of love for my town, I still love my high school, I love all of the teachers, and honestly I really do respect the person in charge of the yearbook and my principal and everyone,” she said.
“So yes, it wasn’t fair to me and it was very shocking, but I have no hard feelings and I know they have no hard feelings,” she said. “I’ll always remember high school as a great experience.”