ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -
On his last day of school, Chris Martin, a 14-year-old boy, decided to wear makeup, including black eyeliner and eye shadow.
His mother, Katelynn Martin, supported his decision. She says her son struggles with depression and has even been bullied over his identity.
"He felt so good about himself when he went to school that day, and then when he called just a short while later from the front office, I could tell he was very upset," said Martin.
She went to her son's school and asked Meadowlawn Middle's principal for an explanation.
"He could not cite anything in the dress code other than to say it was unnecessary for boys to wear makeup, and that it was a distraction," said Martin.
We reviewed Pinellas County Schools dress code policies online. Nowhere on the site does it discuss makeup.
But, it did say, "The administration will be the final judge about whether a student’s clothing is appropriate for school or whether it will create an environmental climate that is distracting to learning."
The Code of Conduct goes on to say that students will not be discriminated against in any manner, including sexual orientation. But that's exactly what Martin thinks happened.
"We said, 'If the girls are allowed to wear makeup to school, why should be my son be required to take his off?' The principal indicated that was ridiculous. So, that's when we decided to just take Chris home," said Martin.
The school would not discuss Chris Martin's case on camera. School spokesperson Melanie Marquez Parra released a statement, saying, "There is more to this story than what has been portrayed in media coverage. The district cannot legally discuss disciplinary matters related to a specific student with anyone other than the student's parent or guardian. The priority for the school district with student matters is the student involved and the student’s family. A district administrator has contacted the student’s parent in an effort to discuss the matter and address any concerns."
ABC Action News also reached out to the Pinellas County School Board and to the board's attorney, but no one would comment.
When Martin heard school officials said there was more to the story, she responded, "I have no idea what other things they could be talking about," said Martin.
But, she and Chris have been doing a lot more than just talking about what happened. The 14-year-old didn't want to speak on camera, but shared his mission.
With his mom's help, they started a petition on moveon.org. They want tolerance training in schools and encourage gay-straight alliance clubs in middle schools. Currently, they said, only some high schools have them.
Thousands support their cause and even the ACLU noticed, sending a letter to the school's superintendent and the board. The letter from an ACLU attorney said what happened is a violation of federal law.
"Applying a different rule to Chris because he is male constitutes sex discrimination. The fact that a students outward appearance is gender-nonconforming does not give school administrators a license to discriminate." The ACLU wrote.
Martin not only hopes her son can bounce back from this-she wants to help others too,
"Even though we are sharing something negative, I want this to be an opportunity for change to happen at the school. So, Chris and all the other kids like him feel they are welcome and safe," said Martin.
Chris also wore a shirt that violated the dress code, it had an anarchy symbol. He said he turned it inside out when asked to by school administrators.
His mother told him not to take off his makeup and decided to take him home instead.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Chris Martin wrote a statement on his recollection of what happened.
The Administrator that saw me in the hall going to my first class said that I couldn’t wear makeup and my t-shirt to class. I’ve worn the shirt a whole bunch of times and no one ever said anything about it before. When they told me to take my makeup off I said no. She (the Admin) laughed. I went to the office to call my family, and they had me sit there and wait. I was upset because they wouldn’t let me keep my makeup on, and I didn’t think it was fair that I had to take it off so my family took me home.
The petition is something we put together as a family, and I think it’s great and well thought out. I didn’t think that there were so many people who cared about kids like me, and I’m really happy to see so many people who want to help make things better. I want to make a difference for kids like me.
When people ask me what message I have for other kids, I want to tell them to stay strong and don’t give up.
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