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Graduation wardrobe dustup

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High school senior Damían Garcia has spent the past four years at a Catholic high school as a transgender male.

He was born Brandi Garcia, a female, but identifies as a male and legally changed his name to Damían last year. He has not hidden his transgender status at St. Pius X, but has also not flaunted it, choosing to be low key.

“I’ve been out since I was in high school, and people at the school knew,” he said. “But I never did it in a dramatic way and tried to avoid the drama.”

Avoiding controversy became more difficult this week when the school told him he could not wear a black gown, the color worn by male students, but would instead have to wear a white gown to Wednesday’s graduation ceremony. Garcia’s story has pushed him into the spotlight and brought him what he said is overwhelming attention and support.

But Garcia said he will not walk if he’s forced to wear a white gown.

“It would be totally degrading and embarrassing,” he said. “That would be the worst thing in the world if I was forced to portray myself as something I’m not.”

The school referred all calls to Susan Murphy, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Murphy did not return a call left at her office Thursday afternoon.

Garcia said the school told him it was archdiocese policy that the color gown students wear is based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. In Garcia’s case, that is female.

Garcia’s father, Luis Garcia, said he has had “heated discussions” with school staff and Murphy.

“I told them that the Bible teaches acceptance,” he said. “You are supposed to love your fellow man. At the very least, there should be some respect.”

Garcia said he had known since he was 5 that he was a male but didn’t have the courage to come out until shortly after he started high school. He said that, although St. Pius X has traditional values, he decided to stay because he liked it and knew he would get a good education. Since coming out, he said friends, staff and school administrators have been supportive and respectful.

An online petition started by supporters has drawn signatures from as far away as Iceland. Friends have organized a peaceful protest at the school from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

Luis Garcia said that the school needs to “come around to the times” and that he wants to not only support his son but to speak out about what’s happening.

“It may not do anything for my son,” he said. “But maybe it will help someone else tomorrow.”

Damían Garcia said he doesn’t think the school will change its mind but hopes it does.

“I want to make it clear that I’m not bashing St. Pius X or Catholicism,” he said. “It’s just an issue that could have been avoided.”

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