You don’t hear much about stories like this, but they are always interesting when they come upon my radar.
A 17-year-old Charles City County student says he was kicked out of school for being gay and wearing high heels. The principal isn’t talking but the superintendent is investigating.
The student was ordered to take off the high heels because he was disrupting the school. Asante Cotman challenged his principal and got suspended. NBC12 talked with him, on day one, of his 3-day suspension.
“I wore this jacket right here and my white shirt and my scarf and a pair of cargo pants and the heels. I didn’t see how it was bothering anyone. I wasn’t revealing nothing,” Asante showed us.
Beige stilettos ignited animosity between the high school junior and his principal. Asante Cotman says he’s the only openly gay male student at Charles City High. The spike heels were the crescendo, the boiling point for both.
ASANTE: “She’s talking to me in a manner, like, belittling me. ‘Oh, you shouldn’t come back here. Oh, we would be glad if you didn’t come back here. Everybody would be happy.’ That comment really got to me. I was almost done.”
DIANE WALKER: “What do you mean almost done?”
ASANTE: “I feel like I was about to kill myself. I was almost done.”
Asante refused to take off the heels and the principal called him out of every class.
“She said I was being disrespectful because she told me to take them off and I didn’t take them off. And she called me again because I didn’t take them off. I don’t understand disrupting the class, because nobody was talking about it. Everybody was doing their work. People have seen me wear heels before. People see me with a pocketbook every day,” Asante said.
He put on slippers when the principal threatened to call police.
NBC12 went to the school but Principal Stephannie Crutchfield wouldn’t discuss it. She said she couldn’t. I walked to the adjacent school and found Superintendent Dr. Janet Crawley.
CRAWLEY: “I want Asante to know that we want him to be comfortable. We want him to enjoy his school environment and we’re going to look out for his rights just like we look out for the rights of any child here.”
DIANE: “Are those heels violating the handbook?”
CRAWLEY: “I cannot honestly tell you what it says about heels. But we do have rules about shoes you wear that’s going to cause you to injure yourself. “
The student went on to say that he felt the principal suspended him for being gay and female students wear high heels all the time. He noted the slippers he put on violated the school dress code because they have an open heel.
The story also claims school officials met with the student and his mother and asked them to “stop the story” from going on the air.
A similar story happened a little over 2 years ago in a metro Atlanta county.
It feels like to me that the people in power at the school in Virginia are hiding behind their vague dress code in order to express their cissexist, homophobic bigotry. If the student’s allegations about his peers not being disrupted by his dress, then why did the principal feel the need to harass this student throughout the day? If students are aware of him being openly gay and he’s been seen at school with a woman’s purse, why would the principal suddenly take offense and suspend this student now?
What’s also troubling is how the school district asked Asante and his mother to stop the story from airing. If they wanted Asante to feel comfortable and enjoy his environment, he would not have had to reach out to a local television news station to share his story. If they wanted this student to feel comfortable while learning, the school district would have employed some form of diversity training that educates employees about transsexual, transgender, gay/lesbian, disability issues so they would feel equipped to face the challenges of teaching in a diverse setting. Preparing this principal, as well as the teachers, to handle diversity could possibly help avoid embarrassing news stories that paint these officials as cisgendered bigots.
As an aside, I can’t help but to have conflicting issues about Asante’s story being put out for mass dissemination by the news media. While these outlets may have been innocent in their stories, I can’t help but to notice a sense of othering Asante’s struggle by a news outlet that most likely hasn’t had the opportunity to really research transgender and transsexual issues and struggles that present themselves in those communities. The news station didn’t really ask Asante about his daily life as a young gay man who likes to wear women’s clothing; they only thought it would be pertinent to have the student show off his clothing for viewers without any context.
The ironic thing about this situation is no matter how “comfortable” the school district makes the classroom for Asante, he will still have to face peers who balk at his refusal to align the clothes he wears with his external appearance as a male. He will still have to face a society who believes cisgendered practices are what’s best for children and teenagers. He will still have to look over his shoulder and constantly fear for his safety as men and women like Asante are more likely to face harassment, discrimination and violent attacks just because of their appearance.