By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com March 19 2014 1:29 PM ET
Administrators of an Arkansas high school are standing by their decision to not publish a profile of a gay student in the school’s yearbook.
Brenda Haynes, superintendent of the Sheridan School District, defended the move to excise seven student profiles, one of which included the coming-out story of junior Taylor Ellis, in a statement released Tuesday.
“We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community,” she said. “We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group. The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.”
After reviewing the details of the case, Haynes maintained that the decision to excise the profiles complies with state law and school policy, reports the Arkansas News Bureau.
“It is clear that the adults who have the responsibility for the operation of the district have the obligation to make decisions which are consistent with the mission of our school. We have done so,” she concluded.
On the same day, the Human Rights Campaign organized a press conference on the steps of the state capitol in Little Rock to protest the district’'s action. Ellis, with his mother and over a dozen classmates by his side, many of whom held signs that read “Stand With Taylor,” said he was proud of being gay and disappointed at the decision to exclude his profile.
“It’s not something I’m ashamed of,” Ellis said. “In fact, I’m proud of who I am. That’s why I can’t understand why my school was trying to force me back into the closet.”
Hannah Bruner, the assistant editor of the yearbook who had asked Ellis to include his coming-out story, was present and maintained that the reason the school administration removed all seven profiles was due to issues with Ellis’s story, in a statement recorded by Little Rock station KATV.
Ellis’s mother, Lynn Tiley, also spoke at the news conference to corroborate this claim. Tiley said the principal had contacted her about her son’s yearbook profile to voice concerns over his “well-being” after Bruner had added his narrative to the yearbook.
“He was worried about him, his well-being, which I didn’t understand because there’d been no problems,” Tiley said. “So I asked him, ‘Have you had threats toward my son?’” to which the principal responded “No.”
HRC president Chad Griffin, a native of Arkansas and a former Sheridan School District student, had organized the conference to make clear that “discriminatory exclusion by Sheridan High School administrators has nothing to do with Arkansas values.” He had condemned the school's decision in a strongly worded letter Sunday.
"Regardless of print deadlines, it would be unconscionable to release the yearbook with the omission of Taylor's well-deserved profile," wrote Griffin in a letter to the Sheridan School District's superintendent. "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."
HRC has collected over 30,000 signatures to protest the exclusion of Ellis’s profile. To support this cause, visit the organization’s online petition. Watch the KATV coverage of the Little Rock news conference below.