Human Rights

School District Censors Gay Teen's Coming-Out Story in Yearbook

Arkansas school administrators said the censorship was "consistent with their mission."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Rob Hyrons

Declaring that they wouldn't "make decisions based on the demands of any special interest group," Superintendent Dr. Brenda Haynes of the Sheradin school district in Arkansas has signed off an a decision by a local high school to censor the "coming out" profile of a gay student in the school's yearbook.

Unfortunately for district officials, the president of the national Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, is also a Sheradin native, and he is using the weight of his organization to force a reversal of the school's decision. 

Griffin wrote a letter to the school's superintended and principal: 

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As an Arkansas native and a former elementary school student in Sheridan, I was taught the Golden Rule— about treating others as we would like to be treated. Whatever you may say about your intentions, it does not change the fact that you have failed to uphold these values that all fair-minded Arkansans share. Addressing bullying requires stopping bullies, not muzzling harmless free expression.

The school answered responded with the aforementioned "special interests" rebuttal, as well as the claim that they were merely "mak[ing] decisions which are consistent with the mission of [the] school." 

The Arkansas Student Publications Act of 1995 said that students ultimately have the final say in what is and isn't published in campus publications, so long as material isn't obscene or libelous. The short profile of Taylor Ellis is clearly neither, unless one believes that being gay is inherently an obsecenity: 

“I use [sic] to be scared to say that I'm gay. It's not fun keeping secrets; after I told everyone, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.” He also said, "Some guys are more reserved around me now. But not a lot of people have been mean about it, thank God. I'm actually in a good situation. I'm very lucky.”

The Human Rights Campaign and the Northwest Center for Equality are now lobbying state Governor Mike Bebee to intervene in the school's decision, but his office has so far been reluctant to do so. 




Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_