Ward Melville Students Protest Over Same Color Gowns For Males, Females

EAST SETAUKET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — More than 100 students at a Long Island high school held a walkout this week to protest a change in the color of the graduation gowns.

For 50 years, female students at Ward Melville High School wore gold graduation gowns while the male students wore green robes.

The principal said all 585 seniors will now be wearing the same color gowns in an effort to bring unity.

Some students held a walkout on Wednesday to protest the gown change and started a petition calling for two colors, which had more than 900 signatures by Friday afternoon.

“This past week has been chaos. There have been protests pretty much every day,” senior Wes Manning said.

“Right now, the school is kind of clearly divided,” one student said.

“It’s just a tradition, and there’s no hate. I’m all about inclusion,” another added.

“For the seniors on graduation day, it is important for us to have different color gowns to walk in. This means having the girls wear gold and the boys wear green, and if there are people that identify as a gender other than the one that they received at birth, then they should choose which color they prefer,” the petition reads. “This has been a tradition for all of the classes before us to wear their school colors one last time and this should not be changed.”

But David Kilmnick, of the LGBT Network, disagrees with the petition, saying the change makes graduation inclusive for all.

“Nothing is really being taken away from any student, the students still are able to be their own unique individual and express their talents, except what’s going to happen now is they’re going to be able to do that as one community,” Kilmnick said. “The decision for students to all wear one gown means that there’s unity, there’s safety, there’s inclusivity, and there’s going to be moving forward together in a safe way.”

Kilmnick praised the school for its decision.

“This was a bold, brave, courageous and smart move by the Ward-Melville School District and one that I hope is replicated by many others,” Kilmnick said.

The move is particularly important in the wake of the Trump administration’s recent decision that drops federal protections for transgender students allowing them to use the restrooms of their choice, Kilmnick said.

School officials said the Board of Education did not set the policy. Informal discussions were held with some students last year, but the decision to have one, uniform cap and gown was just announced this week, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

“Ward Melville High School has always prided itself on being a progressive and open-minded school community,” Principal Dr. Alan Baum said. “I readily admit that the roll out of this change was not done well at all, and for that I offer you my sincere apologies.”

Will the gold and green senior photos be rejected by the yearbook?

“Parents paid money for the cap and gowns, and they don’t know if they’re going to get it back — $400,” parent Ed Munoz said.

Some students said they wanted to follow in the footsteps of their parents and siblings.

“It was a dream of mine my whole life going through high school to graduate the same way they have,” senior Robert Brando said.

“We proposed many solutions to keep the green and gold tradition without trying to make people feel uncomfortable,” senior Dylan Kreig added.

The author of the online petition told Newsday, “Personally, for me this has not been about whether students at our school are transgender or not, but rather the fact that a longstanding tradition has been taken from us without notice.”

An opposing petition supporting the same color gowns received more than 550 signatures.

Last year, Schreiber High School in Port Washington switched to a uniform style cap and gown, and other Long Island schools are now considering same style graduation attire.