It’s not okay to be gay in Tennessee high school yearbook


Staff Reports

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. — A feature that appeared in the Lenoir City High School yearbook entitled “It’s OK to be Gay,” is not okay with at least one school board member, who has called for a criminal investigation of the yearbook’s faculty adviser.

The article, which profiles the the experiences of openly gay student Zac Mitchell, has infuriated school board member Van Shaver, who said he is concerned that students are being unduly influenced.

“What I am intolerant of is an adult, a teacher no less, inflicting their personal beliefs and sexual orientation decisions on impressionable students,” Shaver told the Knoxville Sentinel.

The yearbooks were distributed Friday. By Monday, local blogs had taken up the fight both for and against the article and the yearbook’s faculty adviser, James Yoakley.

“I have received an unbelievable number of emails from parents and concerned citizens,” said Lenoir City High School Principal Steve Millsaps.

According to students, petitions were being circulated 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.

The 17-year-old student who wrote the article 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.

She told the paper that the faculty advisers did review the suggested topics but did not try to influence the students, she said.

“My journalism professor never once pressured us to have certain beliefs,” she said.

The profile includes Mitchell’s story of how he and his family have dealt with the issues of coming out in public and being bullied by others. He also describes extracurricular activities, including cross-dressing and being “hit on by straight guys.”

Yoakley, who has been teaching at the school for 11 years was not available for comment.

The Sentinel also reports that in the past few months Yoakley’s students have been involved in other controversial issues.

Krystal Myers, editor of the Lenoir City High School newspaper, was denied permission to publish an essay titled “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist.”

The essay, which drew protests from some local Christian groups, was subsequently published in newspapers across the country.

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