Metro Weekly

Gay Missouri high schoolers’ yearbook quotes yanked by school officials

School district has since apologized for censoring the quotes

Photo: Human Rights Campaign – Kansas City.

A pair of gay high school seniors at Kearney High School in Kearney, Mo., had their yearbook quotes yanked from the final publication because their local school district worried that the quotes could “potentially offend” other students.

Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz both used quotes referencing the coming out process, with Slivinski writing: “Of course I dress well. I didn’t spend that time in the closet for nothing.”

Swartz wrote: “If ‘Harry Potter’ taught us anything, it’s that no one should have to live in the closet.”

But the district objected to the quotes, and had them removed without notifying the students, reports The Kansas City Star.

In a statement to parents, Kearney School District officials apologized for the removal of quotes, explaining their concerns that some students make take offense to references to homosexuality.

“In an effort to protect our students, quotes that could potentially offend another student or groups of students are not published,” the statement read. “It is the school’s practice to err on the side of caution.

“Doing so in this case had the unintentional consequence of offending the very students the practice was designed to protect. We sincerely apologize to those students. We acknowledge our mistake and will use it as a learning opportunity to improve in the future.”

But Kearney Superintendent Bill Nicely offered a slightly different reason for the omission of the quotes, writing: “During the yearbook editing process, several quotes, not just the ones seen in the news, were omitted for varying reasons. Doing so was an error on the part of the school district. As a result of a breakdown in communication we did not reach out to the students before publication. Had we done so, the quotes would have been permitted.

“[I]t was never the intention of the school district to offend or hurt anyone, and we are deeply sorry for any pain or frustration that resulted due to this error,” Nicely added.

News of the district’s censorship resulted in a backlash from the community on social media, with many arguing that the quotes should have been published.

“I have always supported the Kearney School District I have done nothing but always say good things about our schools. I always felt like I was accepted for being myself,” Slivinski wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m not one to post my feelings on social media, but today Kearney School District showed me that I am not accepted for being who I am.”

The boys did receive support from one local elected official. Matthew Ryan Hunt, an openly gay member of the Kearney Board of Education, issued his own statement on Facebook chastising the school district for its actions.

“None of my fellow board members or district administrators involved in this incident knows what it’s like to be openly gay in such a small town like Kearney,” Hunt wrote. “None of them know the sacrifices made and the courage shown by these two individuals to come out as gay in high school.

“I am here to publicly say that I support their quotes, along with many community members, and feel ashamed that they weren’t given the same respect as other students.”

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