A student in Syracuse, New York is speaking out after his school principal told him he couldn’t mention being gay in the school newspaper.
Tyler Johnson, 17, is a senior at Tully High School who was picked to be part of the school’s “Senior Spotlight” newspaper series. He was sent some questions to answer, and one of them was about the biggest challenge he has had to overcome in his life.
His response: “The biggest challenge I faced was growing up gay and coming out. I had to learn how to become comfortable in my own skin and how to stay strong through bullying and all the negative experiences I had while trying to navigate through life.”
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Johnson said that Principal Mike O’Brien called him into his office and told him that he couldn’t come out as gay in the school’s newspaper because the school has a policy against mentioning “sexuality, orientation, religion, or illegal drugs.”
O’Brien told Johnson that he could change his answer to that question or the question will just be deleted from the profile, but Johnson chose to pull out entirely.
Johnson said that O’Brien encouraged him to allow the profile to go forward because he’s “such a positive face in our community,” but to do so without saying that he’s gay. Johnson’s mother talked to O’Brien and he refused to budge, but still encouraged the teen to effectively hide who he is for the purpose of a school newspaper column. Johnson still refused.
Instead, he discussed the entire incident in a video on TikTok.
“There are so many kids in our community and in our school that are going through the same things that I’ve gone through and that I’m still going through, and reading that from me and seeing that in our school newspaper would give them the courage, give them the strength to know that it’s OK to be yourself,” he explained.
By the next day, that video had been viewed over 5000 times and he was getting supportive messages from people in the community on his phone. The president of the Tully Board of Education texted her support for Johnson as well, saying she couldn’t believe what had happened to him.
O’Brien later reversed his decision, saying that he got Johnson an exception to the policy against “sexuality, orientation, religion, or illegal drugs” in the Senior Spotlight and his profile would run in February.
Shortly after, Johnson says he found out that there never was any such policy and that O’Brien and the district superintendent made it up to remove the part in Johnson’s profile about his sexuality, according to the Blade. In fact, Johnson and his mother noted that religion is often featured in the profiles.
Johnson said that he even heard from a social worker in the school district who was forced to remove a mention of his husband from his bio, even though his colleagues were allowed to mention their opposite-sex spouses in their bios.
Johnson said that he’s speaking out because he wants to be “the last student this ever happens to.”