Teen Who Wore Tux Welcomed at NCLR Gala
Jessica Urbina, the high school senior whose graduation photo was reportedly not included in Sacred Heart Preparatory Academy’s yearbook because she wore a tuxedo, was given a rousing ovation by hundreds of people when she and her girlfriend were the surprise guests at the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ San Francisco gala last weekend.
Students at the San Francisco Catholic high school rallied around Urbina last week when news of the omission spread. By last Friday, hundreds of her fellow students wore ties to school in a show of support. The high school also released a statement saying that the campus-wide dialogue sparked by the school’s action "will result in a revision of policy."
This week, school officials said Urbina’s photo would be included. It was not immediately clear if the yearbooks would be reprinted or if the school would affix the photo in another way.
A beaming Urbina was joined on stage in a ballroom at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in downtown San Francisco May 17 by her girlfriend, Katie Emanuel, and NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell.
"I love tuxedos!" said Urbina.
The evening’s award recipients included actress Meredith Baxter, who came out as lesbian in 2009, and reparative therapy survivors Sam Brinton and Ryan Kendall.
Each honoree was given a standing ovation, but the loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Urbina, who was given two.
"I’ve experienced some things in the past four years that had me [thinking] ... I don’t want to be here, but I found solace in theater - that’s where I met Katie," she said. Urbina also said that the picture of her wearing a tux "is who I am."
Brinton and Kendall received NCLR’s Courage Award. Both survived reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, whose aim is to change people’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Such therapies are widely discredited in the medical and scientific communities, saying that they are potentially harmful. California has enacted a state law prohibiting the practice on minors by state-licensed mental health providers.
"I didn’t fail at changing. I succeeded at being myself," said Brinton. "You can’t change what we never chose."
Tamika Butler, a co-chair of NCLR’s board of directors, presented the Courage Award.
"When NCLR was founded 37 years ago, conversion therapy was one of the socially acceptable ways our society inflicted violence on the LGBT community," she said. "Sam and Ryan ... are survivors in the truest sense. They didn’t just live through something - they’re living for something."
Brinton and Kendall have both attained remarkable academic achievements despite what they endured. Brinton is working toward a dual graduate degree in nuclear engineering and technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kendall is studying law at Columbia University.
Kendall had nearly committed suicide, according to Butler.
"The 16-year-old Ryan fought to keep me here," Kendall said. If he could go back and talk to his younger self, he would say, "It will be a long, hard journey, but you will win."