Holley Gerelds of Springville, Alabama, got dressed for her high school senior portrait like she would have for any other day at school.
While the yearbook portrait rules state that women must wear a drape (a black velvet cloth across their shoulders) and men must wear a tuxedo, Gerelds said she asked if she could wear a tuxedo instead.
“If I had worn a drape, it would have been uncomfortable and a little humiliating,” she said. “And they let me (wear a tuxedo). I paid my money. I was on time. The photographer allowed it. I was sure they would put it in.”
But more than a year later, when Gerelds went to pick up her yearbook from school, she was surprised to see her photo was not included.
“I had heard some rumors that my photo may not be in,” she said. “The first thing I did was laugh. I wasn't laughing because it's funny, I was laughing because that’s all I could do. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just went home and tweeted about it."
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That’s when other people discovered the teen's story and urged her to fight back.
“I thought I was supposed to accept it,” she said. “I didn’t want to start anything because I love my school. I still have a lot of respect for the teachers and I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
But Gerelds decided to speak out, sitting down for an interview with NBC affiliate WVTM.
After her story went viral, Gerelds says the school’s principal called to apologize, followed by the superintendent of the St. Clair County School District, Mike Howard.
Howard said in a statement obtained by WVTM that senior portraits "were taken in accordance with long-standing school guidelines," adding that the district is "reevaluating those guidelines to consider what changes, if any, need to be made."
The superintendent said the school will reprint a page of the yearbook to be added as an insert.
"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 added.
Gerelds, who identifies as a lesbian, said this has caused her to be “more proud of my sexuality and myself.”
“Coming from a small town, it’s just a bunch of land and a bunch of big trucks,” she said. “I am open and I wear what I want but I don’t really speak out about it.
“I always felt like I was alone, but after this I have found out that I am not alone," she continued. "There are so many people in the LGBTQ community who support me. I have learned to be myself, and to not to be afraid of speaking out."
She hopes her story will be an inspiration for other students like her.
“I hope that if there is another girl who sees this and she wants to wear a tuxedo for her photo, she does it. Or a boy who wants to wear a dress, he wears it," she said. “That’s what I want. I want to educate people. I want there to be a change.”