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Arkansas high school censors yearbook profile of gay student’s coming out

Sunday, March 16, 2014
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SHERIDAN, Ark. — Administrators at an Arkansas high school are refusing to allow an interview with an openly gay student in this year’s yearbook because he discusses his sexual orientation.

Taylor Ellis, a junior at Sheridan High School in Sheridam, Ark., was among six students slated to be profiled in the school’s 2014 yearbook, and chose to use that opportunity to share his “coming out” story.

Taylor Ellis

Taylor Ellis

But school officials, citing possible negative repercussions against Taylor, have decided to cancel the profiles for all six students, even though Ellis and his mother have both approved of the story, reports the Student Press Law Center.

“I personally I do not think there’s a risk of that because everyone in the school already knows. It’s not a secret (that Taylor’s gay),” said Hannah Bruner, assistant editor of Yellowjacket, who wrote the profile.

“He did come out last year and he did it over a social networking site so everyone knows already, and the story, like I said, is talking about how accepting everyone has been toward him,” she said.

Bruner said she is unsure which officials in the school administration objected to the profile or why, and that they will only communicate with the yearbook staff through their faculty advisor.

Ellis said principal Rodney Williams called him to his office to discuss the matter a couple of weeks ago, and cited concerns that the story was too personal and that it would Ellis at risk of being bullied.

Following is an edited version of Ellis’ story, as written by Bruner, that the Yellowjacket was prevented from publishing:

“I use to be scared to say that I’m gay,” Taylor Ellis, junior, said. “It’s not fun keeping secrets; after I told everyone, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”

Ellis’s “secret” was first shared in the summer of 2012, with his friend Joelle Curry, junior, and his mother, Lynn Tiley.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Tiley said. “I don’t care because he’s my son, and I know he’s happier.”

Ellis struggled before telling his family.

Ellis waited until spring break of 2013 to tell the rest of his peers; he did so through the social media site, Instagram.

“I put it in my bio, and hashtagged pictures,” Ellis said. “When people would ask me about it, I just said ‘yes I am,’ and that was that.”

Although the thought of coming out, and the repercussions of doing so, frightened Ellis at first, he found that most of the student body, as well as the teachers, were very accepting of him.

“I wrote about it in Mrs. Williams class; it was when I first came out,” Ellis said. “She told me she was glad I shared that with her. We had a stronger bond after that, I think.”

“He had poured himself into it,” Summer Williams, sophomore English teacher, said. “It was one of the best ones I read. I was just so proud of his openness, and his honesty. It was a risk; sharing that with his classmates, but they were very accepting. It was good for him. I could tell he felt better after writing about it.”

Ellis found that while people do not treat him with disrespect, some do seem to be more distant.

“Some guys are more reserved around me now,” Ellis said. “But not a lot of people have been mean about it, thank God. I’m actually in a good situation. I’m very lucky.”

The Student Press Law Center notes that student journalists in Arkansas are protected from most administrative censorship as a result of the Arkansas Student Publications Act.

The law, passed in 1995, requires school boards to adopt student publication policies that recognize that students may exercise their right of expression, and that administrators only censor student publications that are obscene, libelous, constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy or incite students to commit unlawful acts.

Ellis said he doesn’t understand the school’s concerns about publishing his story. “It’s not that big of a deal … It’s just showing other people that it’s OK to be who you are,” he said.

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