Metro Weekly

School District Demands Yearbook Photos of “Don’t Say Gay” Protests Be Censored

Administrators order photos of student-led walkouts to be covered with stickers before yearbooks are distributed.

Lyman High School in Longwood, Florida – Photo: Facebook.

Students at a Florida high school were told they won’t receive their yearbooks until pictures of students protesting the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, taken by yearbook staff, are censored and covered up by stickers. 

The offending pictures, which depict students at Lyman High School, in Longwood, Florida, holding up rainbow flags and a “Love is Love” sign during the protests, were flagged by administrators fearful of backlash from their inclusion. 

Lyman High School Principal Michael Hunter said in a statement that “pictures and descriptions” documenting a student-led walkout in March were flagged over concerns that they violated school board policies prohibiting the depiction of non-school sponsored events in school publications. Hunter apologized, saying he regretted that the photos  had not been “caught earlier in the review process,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The school principal Michael Hunter announced Monday that the distribution of the yearbook would be delayed to assure it meets all aspects of school board policies, including a provision discouraging the inclusion of events not previously sanctioned by administrators in school publications.

The protests were organized in the wake of passage of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, which prohibits classroom instruction or discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K through 3. But critics argued, at the time, and continue to maintain the view that the only way the law can be enforced is by trampling on older students’ freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Opponents of the law, including plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit, have cited several instances in which high school-age students have been preemptively censored, told they cannot discuss their identities or mention LGBTQ-related topics in class, or, as in the case with Lyman High School, had banners, photos, or anything that might indicate support for LGBTQ rights censored lest the school be accused of promoting a political agenda, or worse, sued by parents angered at any mention of homosexuality or gender-nonconformity, even in passing.

Michael Lawrence, a spokesman for Seminole County Public Schools, told the Orlando Sentinel that the yearbooks were censored over fears that the inclusion of photos would give the impression that the walkout was a school-sponsored event and demanded their removal. 

But because the costs of reprinting — estimated to be about $45,000 for 600 yearbooks — is so prohibitively expensive, yearbook faculty advisor Danielle Pomeranz claims she was told to use stickers to cover the photos and captions depicting the walkout.

“Rather than reprinting the yearbook at substantial cost and delay, we have elected to cover that material that is out of compliance with board policy so that yearbooks can be distributed as soon as possible,” Hunter said in a statement explaining the delay in distributing yearbooks.

The yearbook does include a page highlighting the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club — which is allegedly not prohibited by the “Don’t Say Gay” law, at least according to the law’s authors — but that page is not being covered by stickers.

Students have created a hashtag, #StoptheStickers, which is circulating on social media, and had planned to protest Tuesday night’s meeting of the Seminole County school board, reports Orlando-based CBS affiliate WKMG.

Some students expressed anger and disappointment over the cancellation of a party, originally scheduled for Monday evening, where students were supposed to receive their yearbooks and be able to sign them, as well as the censoring of student-produced content.

“This really shouldn’t be happening because all we did as journalists was document what was happening at our school on our campus,” Skye Tiedemann, one of the yearbook’s editors-in-chief, told the Sentinel. “To have that covered up isn’t right. … This is censorship.”

Madi Koesler, a former yearbook student who volunteers to help the class, called the experience “frustrating” for the students who had put a lot of work into creating the yearbook. She noted that a similar walkout, this one to protest lack of gun control following the Parkland school shooting, was included in a previous version of the yearbook, despite not being an official school-sponsored event.

“The only difference is we were advocating for gun reform and not LGBTQ rights,” Desmond Edwards, the president of Lyman High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said, comparing the difference between how administrators responded to pictures of the Parkland protests and the “Don’t Say Gay” protests.

“How are we going to be inclusive if we have to cover up a part of our history, such a monumental part of our school year?” he said.

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