An article profiling the life of a gay student published in the yearbook of a high school in Lenoir City, Tenn., is invoking strong reactions for and against it and might lead to protests during the upcoming graduation ceremonies.
The article, titled "It's OK to be Gay" and published in the yearbook of Lenoir City High School featured gay student Zac Mitchell describing how his family had known he was gay and how he was accepted by most of his friends even though he had been bullied.
Written by a 17-year-old journalism student as an assignment given by the student editor, the article also talked about Mitchell's cross-dressing and how he was "hit on by straight guys." The author, who chose not to use her name out of fear of backlash, is a student of faculty adviser James Yoakley, one of those responsible for reviewing the content.
Days after the yearbook was distributed late last week, parents and concerned citizens flooded school Principal Steve Millsaps' inbox with emails concerning the article. Several blogs also targeted or supported the article and Yoakley.
Knoxnews.com reports that some students are circulating petitions urging others to tear the page from their yearbook as a sign of protest during graduation or to deny Mitchell the right to attend the ceremony.
Loudon County school board member Van Shaver – Lenoir City High School is not under his jurisdiction though – even called for a criminal investigation into the faculty advisers for their failure to control the content of the yearbook. "What I am intolerant of is an adult, a teacher no less, inflicting their personal beliefs and sexual orientation decisions on impressionable students," he wrote on his blog.
Yearbook editor Courtney Price responded to Shaver's call for investigation. "I am an 18 year old Southern Baptist student who is in a four year relationship with a man," she wrote, according to Shaver's website. "I am in no way trying to plead a case for homosexuals, and taking from your stupidity, I can tell you did not read the yearbook. There are multiple stories about kids who have been bullied because of their lives (disabled kids, adopted kids, kids with tattoos, etc.) along with stories about hanging out at church. I would enjoy if you would stop your slander."
School Principal Millsaps distanced himself from the issue, saying he did not personally approve the content for the yearbook, and that faculty advisers were responsible for reviewing it.
This is not the first time an article by Yoakley's student is creating a controversy. In February, his student Krystal Myers wrote an article for the school newspaper titled "No Rights: The Life of an Atheist," alleging her school was promoting religion and discriminating against atheists. The article, which drew protests from Christian groups, was not allowed to be published in the school newspaper, but mainstream newspapers carried the piece.