Friday, March 14, 2014

Sheridan High squelches yearbook profile of gay student

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 1:17 PM

click to enlarge TAYLOR ELLIS: Out and OK.
  • TAYLOR ELLIS: Out and OK.
The Student Press Law Center reports that Sheridan High School administration ordered the school yearbook to scrap six planned student profiles rather than include one on a gay student who talked about his experience.

Raw Story summarizes the case, in which the yearbook is fighting to go to press with the feature. But high school principal Rodney Williams has refused to discuss the issue.

Under Arkansas law, students theoretically have editorial control of their publications and administrators may not censor them.

Junior Taylor Ellis told the Law Center’s Lydia Coutré that he doesn’t understand why the school has an issue with publishing his story.

“I think that it’s a good thing for people like me to see that it’s OK to be openly gay in school,” he said. “(The principal) said that it was personal, but it’s really not that personal because everybody knows. It’s not that big of a deal…It’s just showing other people that it’s OK to be who you are.”

The principal reportedly met with Ellis to try and talk him out of publishing his story, telling the teen he could be beaten up or bullied. {Yellowjacket assistant editor Hannah] Bruner, however, said that it’s school officials who are doing the bullying.

“They don’t really care about the law, and they’re sending a message to the whole student body and they’re just censoring all of us,” she said.

Today is the deadline for sending the yearbook to the printer.

The Student Press Law Center said the district superintendent and principal wouldn't return calls.

Under Arkansas law, administrators can censor obscene or libelous material and material that amounts to an unwarranted invasion of privacy. They may also claim the ability to act to prevent publication of material that might incite unlawful acts or acts against school policy. How a student's willingness to talk about his life fits in those exceptions is unclear.

UPDATE: Taylor's mother, Lynn Tiley, tells me that things had been far better for her son since he came out. She said she'd talked twice with the principal, who'd insisted the story was "too personal." She said she'd been told the decision was final on yearbook publication. Her son is moving forward. He talked with TV news crews today (he'll be featured on KARK and Fox 16 tonight). And, in May, he'll report for basic Army training. He's a member of the Arkansas National Guard, something that wouldn't have been possible not too many years ago.

Taylor sat his mother down on his beloved grandmother's porch swing about a year ago and said, "Momma, I need to tell you something." She recalls: "He was shaking so bad."

Like most mothers, Tiley had had her suspicions. And she's wholly supportive. She said she's doubtful of the principal's assertion he'd support his son equally strongly in the same situation. She can't imagine anyone more strongly behind a son than herself.

Taylor tells me the announcement had been mostly a non-event with fellow students, though he'd been concerned "It's still seen as a bad thing here," he acknowledged. The feeling runs strong in many churches. But his own Baptist church and its pastor have been understanding and welcoming, he and his mother said.

"The world is definitely changing," he said.


Following is an edited version of the story the Yellowjacket was prevented from publishing:

"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 struggled before telling his family.

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."

—Hannah Bruner

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