John M. Becker

Arkansas High School Blocks Gay Student's Yearbook Profile

Filed By John M. Becker | March 17, 2014 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Arkansas, censorship, Chad Griffin, HRC, Taylor Ellis, yearbook

taylor-ellis.jpgAdministrators at Sheridan High School in Sheridan, Arkansas are in hot water today after they refused to publish a profile about a gay student in this year's yearbook.

Local Fox affiliate KLRT reports:

About a year ago, Taylor Ellis used Instagram to come out, letting people know he's gay. He said, "I just wanted people to know because my whole life was a lie."

The assistant editor of the Sheridan High School yearbook wanted to share Ellis' story too. Hannah Bruner says it showcases the diversity at their school. She said, "I didn't think it would be that big of a problem."

So Bruner wrote [a] profile on Ellis [for the yearbook]. However, Bruner says weeks later, the principal decided to pull it from the yearbook along with five other student profiles.

The principal says the decision was made to avoid bullying, but Bruner and Ellis are calling shenanigans. "[E]verybody knows that I'm gay so it wouldn't be any different," Ellis said. Bruner adds, "I'm not going to be walked on with this because it's important to me and to Taylor and to all the other students who were interviewed and the yearbook staff."

The Arkansas Student Publications Act protects students' right to free expression in student publications.

More, including a copy of the controversial profile, after the jump.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and an Arkansas native, released a letter yesterday calling on Sheridan Superintendent Brenda Haynes and Principal Rodney Williams to reverse their decision. Griffin wrote:

"If not resolved immediately, this act of discriminatory censorship will send a dangerous message to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in Sheridan, across Arkansas and around the nation -- that they are second-class citizens and their lives are not equally valid. Instead of respecting the wishes of Taylor's fellow students to recognize him in their yearbook, you have told him and other students who may already feel marginalized that they are not an equally valued part of the Sheridan high school student body.

"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."

HRC has also launched a petition calling on school administrators to re-insert Bruner's profile on Ellis.

Here's the text that was removed from the Sheridan High School yearbook, via KLRT:

"I use to be scared to say that I'm gay," Taylor Ellis, junior, said. "It's not fun keeping secrets; after I told everyone, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders."

Ellis's "secret" was first shared in the summer of 2012, with his friend Joelle Curry, junior, and his mother, Lynn Tiley. "I wasn't surprised at all," Tiley said. "I don't care because he's my son, and I know he's happier."

Ellis, who said he struggles with clinical depression, had just recently stopped taking his medication before telling his family. "I was going crazy, just wanting to tell people after I stopped taking them," Ellis said.

However, Ellis waited until spring break of 2013 to tell the rest of his peers; he did so through the social media site, Instagram. "I put it in my bio, and hashtagged pictures," Ellis said. "When people would ask me about it, I just said 'yes I am,' and that was that."

Although the thought of coming out, and the repercussions of doing so, frightened Ellis at first, he found that most of the student body, as well as the teachers, were very accepting of him. "I wrote about it in Mrs. Williams class; it was when I first came out," Ellis said. "She told me she was glad I shared that with her. We had a stronger bond after that, I think."

"He had poured himself into it," Summer Williams, sophomore English teacher, said. "It was one of the best ones I read. I was just so proud of his openness, and his honesty. It was a risk; sharing that with his classmates, but they were very accepting. It was good for him. I could tell he felt better after writing about it."

Ellis found that while people do not treat him with disrespect, some do seem to be more distant. "Some guys are more reserved around me now," Ellis said. "But not a lot of people have been mean about it, thank God. I'm actually in a good situation. I'm very lucky."

Funny, Ellis's profile doesn't look controversial to me at all...

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