Graduation gown color change sparks walkout, petitions at Long Island high school

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Saturday, March 4, 2017
Graduation gown change sparks walkout, petitions at Long Island high school
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CeFaan Kim has the story from East Setauket.

SETAUKET, Long Island (WABC) -- There is a growing controversy at a high school on Long Island just months before graduation.

Some students at Ward Melville in Setauket are taking offense to their school's decision for boys and girls to wear the same gowns.

It is meant as a way to be more inclusive to students, regardless of gender, but not everyone is onboard with the idea.

The new gowns are green and gold, bearing the school's emblem. They don't seem controversial, but that depends on who you ask.

"This isn't about gender, this isn't about transgender," 17-year-old senior Max Gironda said. "This is about tradition."

For 50 years, the young men wore green while young women wore gold. But that changed recently.

School officials say the intent was to be more progressive and inclusive towards transgender students. But that change led to a walkout of about 100 students Wednesday.

It also ignited a firestorm on social media and online petitions both for and against.

Gironda authored the opposition petition, which garnered almost 900 signatures. His father said one of the issues is that he feels the principal made the decision in secret.

"To try to make a couple of people comfortable with their gender identity, he took away the ability for all of the rest of the children to acknowledge their gender identity," Kevin Gironda said. "He took a way that right."

Other opponents of the new gowns say that transgender students should feel comfortable, but that the old gowns gave them the right to choose how they identify. And, they add, tradition is important.

"My sister wore gold, my brother wore green," senior Lauren Egan said. "And there's a spot for me to have my picture hung on the wall."

"I accept everyone," student Brendan Ciullo added. "I think you express yourselves as you want. But I think giving everyone a choice. Wear green or gold is your option. You choose how you express yourself."

Of course, there's also the other side. A petition in favor of the new gowns has more than 500 signatures. And some say the new gowns are the best of both worlds.

"I'm married to a woman," parent Jenifer Nix said. "It's a not a traditional marriage, but I feel that the choice of color, they're incorporating both colors, so it's not a bad thing. It's all for the best."

Principal Alan Baum responded in a statement.

"The ceremony will continue to reflect the district's history of pride and academic excellence as we honor our traditions and student success through this milestone event," he said.

LGBT advocates, meanwhile, say it's a positive step forward.

"This tradition, the so-called tradition of wearing two different colored gowns, is archaic," said David Kilmnick, of the New York LGBT Network. "It is way time for it to be over and done."

Another part of the controversy is that seniors shelled out hundreds of dollars for their pictures months ago, which were taken in their old gowns. Some now say they want to take their pictures over, upset that they'll graduate in a gown different than their photos.