The Nebraska School Activities Association will now allow a high-school senior to recite a poem he wrote that addresses gender identity and sexual orientation on local public television, reversing a controversial decision made just a day earlier.
Michael Barth is a senior at Gordon-Rushville High School in Gordon, Neb., and last week he won first place in the Class C1 poetry division of the Nebraska School Activities Association's statewide speech and drama competition, according to BuzzFeed. Traditionally, nine of the winning students are selected to perform their pieces on a "Best of the Best" showcase on Nebraska Educational Television, a joint effort of the state's PBS and NPR stations. Barth was among those nine students but told the Lincoln Journal Star that NSAA's executive director, Rhonda Blanford-Green, said he would have to change the bulk of his poem if he wanted to perform it, cutting references to gender identity and sexual orientation.
Barth's winning poem borrowed verses from the Grammy-nominated equality anthem "Same Love," by Macklemore and combined them with several stanzas about a gender-nonconforming kindergarten teacher from a spoken-word piece called "Swingset" by out slam poet Andrea Gibson. According to The Huffington Post, Barth's piece also involved original text, including a stanza that read, "I tell my guy friends that I love 'em / And sometimes, sometimes I even hug 'em / Not because I'm gay, but because I love 'em."
After swift outcry over what many saw as censorship — a Facebook group called Support Michael and Acceptance of Speech has nearly 1,500 members — the NSAA reversed its decision Wednesday afternoon, confirming that Barth will be allowed to perform his poetry program as written.
"The intent of my decision was not to stifle freedom of speech, but rather to avoid any negative connotations for individuals within this statewide production,” said Blanford-Green in the statement announcing the reversed decision. "The NSAA will continue to advocate for all students and promote equitable opportunities through activity participation."
Watch a report from Nebraska's KETV on the controversy below.