A Tennessee high school journalism instructor has infuriated locals, including one school board member, after publishing a pro-gay profile of a graduating student in the yearbook.
Written by a member of the Lenoir City High School yearbook's student staff, "It's OK to be Gay" describes the experiences of openly gay student Zac Mitchell. In the piece, Mitchell describes coming out in public and being bullied, as well as cross-dressing and being "hit on by straight guys," according to the Knoxville Sentinel.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Mitchell says of coming out in eighth grade. "The girls were all so excited and the boys were pretty much half and half. Some of them didn't care and seemed like they had always known, but some weren't okay with it." Later, describing his experience visiting Nashville, Mitchell adds, "A lot more people are out about being gay their [sic] than there is here...cross dressing was so much fun. It was funny, so many straight guys came and hit on me that night."
However, one person who is not OK with the article is Loudon County School Board member Van Shaver, who is calling for a criminal investigation of the yearbook's faculty adviser, James Yoakley.
"Some might think I'm intolerant toward homosexuals but that would be wrong," Shaver wrote on his blog. "If an individual wants to be a homosexual, that's their own decision and they will have to live with the consequences of that decision. What I am intolerant of is an adult, a teacher no less, inflicting their personal beliefs and sexual orientation decisions on impressionable students." He concluded, "I know many other parents and members of our community expect a full and open investigation by school administrators and law enforcement into this issue and to hold accountable any and all those who had a hand in this despicable act."
Some students also say 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, according to the Sentinel.
Yoakley, who has reportedly taught at Lenoir City High School for 11 years, admitted in an email to the Student Press Law Center that the reaction to the story had been mixed, but nonetheless praised the author of the piece. "The editor tried to capture the school from all the different ways and places students fit into the school community," he is quoted as saying. "She did it quite well. The gay student was just one of many 'elements' we covered."
As the Sentinel notes, however, this isn't the first time one of Yoakley's journalism students has faced controversy. Krystal Myers, editor of the school newspaper, was denied permission to publish an essay titled "No Rights: The Life of an Atheist," after it drew protests from some local Christian groups. Her piece was subsequently published in newspapers across the country.
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