by Gwen Filosa, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday May 05, 2009, 9:00 AM
Jeremy Don Kerr enjoys wearing a skirt in public. And he wants a federal court to ensure that a man can do so in peace.
Kerr has sued the New Orleans Police Department in U.S. District Court over a May 2008 incident in which he says a uniformed officer threatened to arrest him for wearing a black pinstriped skirt, hemmed two inches above the knee, instead of pants to Municipal Court.
"He followed me out of the courtroom yelling at me, he grabs me by the shoulder and pulls me around, " Kerr said Monday. "He had no right to ask me that question. You couldn't ask a woman, 'Why are you wearing pants?' "
In a civil-rights lawsuit filed last month, Kerr describes himself as "a heterosexual male of Scottish ancestry" who was made a victim of discrimination by his choice of attire.
He seeks a declaratory judgment saying that NOPD violated his rights and $1 in damages, along with court fees.
In addition, Kerr wants U.S. District Court Judge Helen Berrigan to bar the NOPD from prohibiting anyone in the city "unfettered access to public facilities because of sex discrimination that is based on gender stereotyping."
Officer Glen Tate demanded that Kerr explain why he was in a skirt, Kerr says, asking at one point if he was a woman.
"He said, 'Are you going to make me arrest you and find out?' " Kerr recalled. "He threatened to take me out of the courthouse and put me in Orleans Parish Prison over a simple choice of attire."
The NOPD hasn't been served with the lawsuit and hasn't answered the claim in court.
Kerr, 37, a native of Lake Charles, left a college teaching career in the Midwest to return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. He earned a doctorate in sociology, with a focus on criminology, at the University of Kentucky.
Kerr began wearing skirts in 2003 after a friend suggested he'd look as if he were in a kilt. He prefers a skirt when dancing at clubs along Frenchmen Street or strolling New Orleans neighborhoods. He finds skirts more comfortable than pants, and wears them with button-down oxfords or T-shirts.
Kerr wore a skirt to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. "The comments are overwhelmingly positive, " he said. "Women love it, people of all ages and all races love it across the board."
He wears pants for his job selling scooters and motorbikes, he said. He has been kicked out of restaurants and barred from bars over his clothing choice, which he points out is a practice that began thousands of years ago.
The New York and Paris runways in January featured men in skirts, dressed by designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs.
"I'm a straight man, " Kerr said. "A lot of people seem to believe if I'm in a skirt it must mean that I'm gay. It's a choice in clothing style. One hundred years ago women could only wear dresses and skirts, and men could only wear pants."
Kerr's alleged clash with the officer took place at Municipal Court on May 5, 2008, the suit says, when Kerr was appearing on a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace. The case was later dropped but required a second trip to the courthouse, Kerr said.
This time, Kerr wore pants in case he ran into Tate. "I was scared, " Kerr said. "He was there."
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Gwen Filosa can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3304.
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