Two gay former high school students spoke out against their local school district’s decision to remove their senior quotes from the 2017 yearbook.
Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz both recently received their yearbooks after graduating from Kearney High School in Kearney, Missouri, earlier this year. However, they quickly noticed that the space beneath their names where a quote should have been was empty, HuffPost reports.
“I put a very innocent quote as my senior quote and they took it away from me with absolutely no warning or option to change it,” Slivinski wrote on Facebook.
“Our schools are supposed to be a place that you can express being who you are. Today I realized Kearney isn’t ready for me being me,” he added.
Swartz also expressed disappointment in the removal of his quote. “They need to know what they did is wrong,” he told KCTV 5. “I want to be able to tell other people my story about what happened.”
Both of the students’ witty quotes sarcastically referenced the “coming out of the closet” metaphor used almost exclusively to describe when a gay person who has kept their sexuality hidden decides to become open with it.
“Of course I dress well. I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing,” Slivinski’s quote reportedly read. Swartz said his quote offered a similar sentiment: “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that nobody deserves to live in the closet.”
After word spread that the school district omitted the students’ quotes, they released an apology statement that also defended their controversial decision.
“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,” the statement, which was attributed to Kearney High School Principal Dave Schwarzenbach and Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely, read. “We sincerely apologize to those students.”
Although the school district claims it was "protecting" students, school board member Matthew Ryan Hunt pointed out on Facebook that other quotes have been permitted that are much more offensive and, in some cases, inappropriate for a high school yearbook.
“In recent years we’ve allowed quotes such as:
‘Girl, you’re thicker than oatmeal.’ – 2016
‘I’ll steal your girlfriend.’ – 2016
‘It’s not that I don’t like you… oh wait, yes, yes its true.’ – 2017
‘I would have voted for Trump because I don’t want a girl President, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.’ – 2017
‘It’s not called being gay, it’s called being FABULUS.’ – 2016
I see no reason why Thomas and Joey’s quotes weren’t published.”
Even the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Kansas City Branch chimed in on the lack of fairness shown to the two students.
“Living as an open LGBTQ individual is not a controversial statement and should not be treated as such,” said the HRC’s Abbey Logan. “With the inflammatory rhetoric permeating the national conversation, it is paramount to let LGBTQ youth know that they are loved and supported as they are and that being targeted for living openly is never OK.”
The school district at least seems to recognize their error in terms of failing to notify the students that their quotes would be removed.
“As a result of a breakdown in communication we did not reach out to the students before publication,” Nicely reportedly wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Had we done so, the quotes would have been permitted just as a similar quote was permitted in last year’s publication.”
While Slivinski and Swartz may no longer be students of the Kearney school district, their brave decision to call out the discrimination in this situation is likely to have a positive impact on how LGBT students will be treated going forward.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Tony Webster