Friday, March 21, 2014

Yearbook discrimination

Every spring a handful of stories emerge about high school students who want to do things that school districts feel are gender inappropriate: go to prom with a same-sex date, wear attire to prom that is perceived as gender non-conforming, run for homecoming king or queen in a non-biologically matching sex, wear the "feminine" or "masculine" attire for a yearbook photo. Some of these cases invoke Title IX, others do not, or do not make it that far.
The latest of these stories is the censorship of a gay male student's story--one that was solicited by the yearbook staff--in the yearbook.
In Arkansas, Taylor Ellis, a junior at Sheridan High School, wrote one of 7 profiles that would be shared in the school yearbook. He came out a year ago and his profile was (ironically) about how accepted he had been by the community in that time. But the school district feels it is "too personal" and has told the yearbook it will not be allowed to publish any of the 7 profiles. They clearly see that they cannot target Ellis's profile, but that does not mean the decision has been without controversy. Yearbook staffers are upset at the censorship, as are other students, and now the Human Rights Campaign has gotten involved in trying to pressure state officials to intervene.
The school district seems to be holding fast. The school superintendent issued that following statement earlier in the week:
We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community. We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group.
The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.
Not sure who the "special interest group" is here. The yearbook? The students?  Ellis is not standing by himself here. He has the support of the larger community.
The tactic of "punishing everyone" that we seen with schools that cancel all extracurricular student clubs so that they do not have to allow a gay-straight alliance to meet, for example, is not working. If administrators hope that peer pressure will compel LGBT groups and students to skulk away they are 1) not in touch with shifting cultural tides and 2) very misguided and uncompassionate educators.