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He prefers dresses, but his principal says no

By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2002


TAMPA -- On Saturday, 17-year-old Antonio "Loloe" Williams wrapped himself in a white Cinderella-style dress, slid into see-through stilettos, topped it off with a rhinestone tiara and headed to the Middleton High School homecoming dance.

TAMPA -- On Saturday, 17-year-old Antonio "Loloe" Williams wrapped himself in a white Cinderella-style dress, slid into see-through stilettos, topped it off with a rhinestone tiara and headed to the Middleton High School homecoming dance.

It was the first time Williams, who describes himself as asexual, had worn a dress to a school function. A friend snapped a picture of the dolled-up Williams with principal Henry Washington.

But on Wednesday, when Williams showed up at school in a size 7 denim miniskirt and a snug T-shirt with the phrase "It isn't easy being me," Washington told him to leave the campus.

"I asked them, 'Why can't I just be me?' " said Williams, who thinks girls' clothes are more comfortable than boys' clothes. "They didn't really give me a good reason."

Williams claims sexual discrimination.

But Hillsborough County school system spokesman Mark Hart said the boy violated a district dress code prohibiting students from wearing attire considered disruptive.

"It's permissible for a boy to dress as a girl and vice versa," Hart said. But the clothing must not violate the dress code's stipulations on decency and it must not cause a stir.

"If in the principal's opinion the clothing is disruptive, it's a dress code violation," Hart said. "It's . . . how students react to how someone is dressed. The problem is it could make a student a target of harassment."

So why wasn't Williams disciplined at the homecoming dance for wearing a flowing ball gown on his muscular teenage frame?

Hart said Washington decided not to make an issue of it last weekend even though students were talking and speculating about the boy's sexual orientation.

"Henry Washington did the right thing," Hart said. "The district supports him."

This is not the first time the school district has faced a decision about a cross-dressing student.

In June, former Robinson High School student Nikki Youngblood filed a lawsuit in federal court after the school refused to allow her to wear a tie and jacket for her senior picture. The school required girls to wear scoop-necked drapes and boys to wear shirts and ties.

In the pending lawsuit, Youngblood claims the school violated her constitutional rights.

Williams' mother, Carmela Williams, also believes her son's rights have been violated.

"You can't tell a person how to dress," Ms. Williams said.

Since he was 4 years old, Ms. Williams said, her son has preferred dresses and dolls.

"He's very feminine," she said. "He wanted to be a cheerleader. He did things normal boys wouldn't do.

"He really wants to be gay all the way," said Williams, who has seven other children. "I have no problem with it. Whatever he wants to be, I'm okay with it."

Williams, who has played football and baseball, said his closet is filled with both boy and girl clothing, some of which he has sewn himself.

Typically he wears athletic clothes to school.

Williams could face detention or even suspension if he violates the dress code again.

He's not sure what he will wear to school when he returns Friday. But he hopes the school will allow him to dress as he pleases.

Williams said he plans to mind his own business. But if other students react inappropriately to his attire, he believes they should be the ones who are punished, not him.

"I told them, 'I come to school to get a diploma," he said, "not be in a fashion show.' "

-- Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Tamara Lush contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com .

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