Karine Jean-Pierre
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School Reverses Decision to Cover Up ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest Images

Image of teens with rainbow flag

Update on 5/10/22 at 9:12 p.m.: Seminole County Public Schools decided on Tuesday, May 10, to not cover the images but to instead add a sticker to the page noting the protest was not a school-sanctioned event, which would bring the yearbook into compliance with the district's policies, a spokesperson from the school district told The Advocate in an email. The original article is below.

Students at Lyman High School in Longwood, Fla., learned this week that there would be a delay in receiving their yearbooks — not due to a printing or shipping issue, but because some of the images in them were deemed “out of compliance with [school] board policy.”

The photos in question were of the school’s students protesting the state’s “don’t say gay” law back in March before it was passed, reports local NBC affiliate WESH.

The censors are planning to put stickers over photos of students holding a “Love Is Love” sign and rainbow flags during the walk-out protest.

A message from the school’s principal, Michael Hunter, explained that the event wasn’t sponsored or endorsed by the school. 

“Earlier today I announced that the distribution of the Lyman Yearbook would be delayed. The distribution is being delayed in order to assure the yearbook meets all aspects of Seminole County School Board policies, particularly as it pertains to non-school sponsored events contained in school publications,” Hunter wrote in a message distributed Monday. “Unfortunately, the pictures and descriptions that depicted this event did not meet school board policy and were not caught earlier in the review process. Rather than reprinting the yearbook at substantial cost and delay, we have elected to cover the material that is out of compliance with board policy so that yearbooks can be distributed as soon as possible. Our yearbook staff has done a wonderful job of capturing many aspects of our students’ experience. Overall, the yearbook celebrates Lyman’s history, diversity, and inclusivity. I look forward to everyone getting to see the yearbook and having the opportunity to enjoy it themselves.”

In an email to The Advocate, a spokesperson for  Seminole County Public Schools said the images violated the district's policy on student publications because the images were not explicitly framed as not endorsed by the school or district. 

"The issue at hand here is not the photos or the topic for which the students were protesting. This is specifically about how the context of events of a non-school/district-sponsored, non-endorsed, non-promoted event were portrayed on this particular page, which doesn't comport with the Board Policy," the spokesperson said. "If these items were caught earlier prior to print, some simple editing/tweaking likely could've occurred to make that section in compliance prior to print."

Lyman High yearbook page

Photo: Change.org

The yearbook’s co-editor in chief Skye Tiedemann and lead photographer Enok Arocho were shocked by the news, as it’s not historically been the school’s practice to censor what the yearbook staff decides to include in the book. “When my teacher first told me [about the cover] I was just completely shocked,” Tiedemann told the outlet. “Every single morning on the announcements Mr. Hunter says that we are historic, we are diverse, and we are inclusive, and clearly in our yearbook we are trying to portray that with the LGBTQ community.”

The students, however, are pushing back, and have launched a Stop the Sticker social media campaign. “An event that we had planned for [Monday] after school which was the distribution [of the yearbooks] to all the seniors had to be canceled because of the censorship of our book,” Arocho said. 

“These are my photos, and I think the students should be able to see them because taking away these photos is silencing their voices,” said Madi Koesler, a photographer and recent Lyman High graduate. “This was a protest that wasn’t met with much resistance by the administration and we were easily able to take pictures of the kids in the courtyard. They were celebrated; they were chanting.”

Students are also planning to attend tonight’s school board meeting to speak out against the school’s decision.

While she’s unable to attend the meeting herself, state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani tweeted in support of the students. “Wrote a letter to the Seminole County School Board... just ridiculous that we even have to do this,” she wrote. If kids want to include pictures from a protest for #LGBTQ+ rights in THEIR YEARBOOK then let them! #SayGay”

Eskamani included an image of the letter sent to the school board, expressing her disappointment in their decision. “To be clear: students have a First Amendment right to express themselves, as they did across the state and at Lyman in opposition to a bill that was being debated before the state Legislature.

“Students were empowered to craft a yearbook that reflects their lived experiences of the academic year and did so with professionalism — sharing a piece of history on Lyman’s campus, one that should be reflected upon. Not censored.”

She also noted that other protests that took place on campus and were featured in the yearbook have not been censored. “Your decision to censor only LGBTQ+ advocacy sends a message you consider issues of student equality to be inappropriate and unworthy of recognition,” she wrote. “This is a dangerous precedent to set. And in case you need a refresher, LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. We need to support all students, not make those already marginalized feel unvalued and disrespected.

Eskamani ended the letter with a plea for the school board to reconsider its decision.

  

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