A school board member in Tennessee is calling for a police investigation after a yearbook published one gay student’s story.
Van Shaver wrote on his blog that James Yoakley, a journalism teacher who has worked at Lenoir City High School, near Knoxville, for eleven years, should be fired after an article about gay student Zac Mitchell was published in the school’s yearbook. Shaver demanded “a full and open investigation by school administrators and law enforcement into this issue and to hold accountable any and all those who had a hand in this despicable act.”
Although Shaver is a board member for the adjacent Loudon County Schools, Knox News reports that petitions are being circulated that Mitchell should be denied the right to attend graduation and that he has received threats and that students are being urged to tear the page with Mitchell’s story from their yearbook as a sign of protest during graduation.
Knox News says that Shaver’s demands are the subject of furious debate on local blogs and quotes Lenoir City High School Principal Steve Millsaps saying that he has been deluged with pro and anti Mitchell emails.
The 17-year-old student who wrote the article about Mitchell said she was afraid to have her name published.
“There have been threats made starting with, ‘If I found out who wrote the story,’” she said.
The article about Mitchell is about his coming out and his family’s acceptance:
“There will always be people who bully me for being gay, but I don’t care,” Mitchell says. “It doesn’t affect me and it never has. That’s probably why they keep doing it. As a person who is all about love and peace, I know that you can’t be fully or tryly happy until you are confident in who you are.”
“I didn’t think it was a big deal to be who you are because that’s what they always told you to be who you are in school. So when they asked me, I told them that I knew I was gay when I was three years old,” Mitchell told local TV news.
Mitchell said he had received messages from parents, “like how could you do this to our school? You’re such a shame.”
In February, after protests from some local Christian groups, the school newspaper refused to publish a column entitled “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist” in which Lenoir City High School honors student Krystal Myers explained that she feels Christians are allowed special rights at the school while atheists are not.
Tennessee’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans all mention of sexuality except heterosexuality in K-8, is likely dead for this session after the bill’s House sponsor decided to pull the legislation on Sunday before it could proceed to a vote.
Image source: Lenoir City High School yearbook scan by Van Shaven