- Treyvion Gray was suspended from school for weeks due to the length of his locs.
- Gray says he felt "targetted" after facing disciplinary action and was told he couldn't attend graduation.
- The teen is suing Needville ISD in Texas, saying their decision to suspend him caused "emotional distress."
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Treyvion Gray, a black high school senior in the Needville Independent School District located in Fort Bend County, Texas, was first approached last December about the length of his locs as he was walking to gym class.
"Treyvion your hair's getting too long, you're going to have to cut it," he recalled the assistant principal saying to him. "And I said, "Ma'am, why would I have to? Why am I going to have to cut my hair? There are other kids literally with hair longer than mine, and it's all past their collar. So why are you talking to me about mine?"
The district's dress code states that boys' hair should not cover their ears, be past their eyebrows, "or over the top of a standard collar in the back when combed down," according to the document seen by Insider.
"I was definitely targetted because of my race," the 18-year-old told Insider. "I did not want to cut my hair because it is a part of my identity. I've been growing them for too long [and] it's how I choose to express myself in my culture."
Locs have been worn in cultures stretching from Asia and the Middle East to Africa, where they historically represented strength, a spiritual connection, or the rejection of mainstream ideals, as Kyle Ring, the curator behind a popular hair-themed Instagram account, wrote in Esquire in 2020.
Gray was suspended from school in early March. With the help of his attorney, he was able to return to class but is still pursuing a lawsuit against his school district.
The teen said he was isolated from his peers during in-school suspension, until he was later transferred to an alternative school in April. Additionally, he was told he couldn't attend his graduation or other activities until he complied with the school's policy.
"I was very depressed and sad. I've been waiting for this whole time to be able to walk across the stage because I've been ready to graduate for a long time," Gray said. "Then they told me I wouldn't be able to walk across the stage. And I was like, 'What?' It was a shock."
Gray doesn't know if he'll be walking at his fast-approaching graduation ceremony
A lawsuit filed last month against Needville ISD, the superintendent, and the board of trustees are named as defendants, claims Gray was discriminated against, and the school officials' decision has caused him "emotional distress."
"NISD Administrators did not target and surveil non-black students in the way they monitored Gray," the lawsuit alleged, which noted that his locs fall just below his eyebrow. "The District's regular monitoring and inspection of Gray ostracised him and singled him out from his white classmates."
Needville ISD did not respond to Insider's request for comment.
His attorney, Melissa Moore, also filed a temporary restraining order as a way to "seek some immediate relief to give Treyvion to ensure that he has equal access to education because he was not receiving the same educational opportunities as his peers in alternative school."
Last week, a judge said that Gray could return to campus, but his lawyer said they may have to return to court to ensure he can walk at his graduation.
"We don't want to fall short at the goal line," Moore said.