source: Taylor Ellissource: Jeydon Loredo
source: Felicia Rivera
source: Palmer High School
It’s easy for LGBTQ youth to pass as straight in high school; you learn to dress differently, act differently, speak differently, blend in, hide out; become invisible.
But it’s hard to come back from invisibility, so, the good news is that many of the LGBTQ youth in high schools across America have decided not to hide, not to be invisible, but to be out, and proud and be themselves. Of course, that comes with all sorts of problems, the greatest of which can be the fact that many are bullied and tormented for simply being themselves. But there’s another downside, when your own school tries to take away who you are, and to make you invisible again because they’re uncomfortable.
Taylor Ellis is a junior at Sheridan High School in Sheridan, Arkansas, and he was selected as one of six students to be profiled in the schools 2014 yearbook.
It was a big deal, and Taylor, openly gay, decided he would share his story of coming out so that maybe other students might follow his lead, step out of the closet, out of invisibility, and be themselves.
Trouble was, though, the administrators at Sheridan High School are refusing to allow his interview to be published in the yearbook simply because he talks about being gay. Those officials, who are citing possible negative repercussions against Taylor as their reason behind their editing choices, have also decided to scrap all six of the interview profiles.
Punish everyone because you’re afraid that if the gay kid talks about being gay he might be bullied and then you might have to haul your ass out of the teacher’s lounger and actually do something, is how I see it.
Hannah Bruner, assistant editor of Sheridan’s Yellowjacket, who wrote the profile, says, “I personally do not think there’s a risk of that because everyone in the school already knows. It’s not a secret (that Taylor’s gay). He did come out last year and he did it over a social networking site so everyone knows already, and the story, like I said, is talking about how accepting everyone has been toward him.”
Everyone’s been accepting of Taylor, except the school. Before the interview was scrubbed, Principal Rodney Williams spoke to Taylor about his story, and his thoughts about how it might lead to Taylor being bullied — even though, as we know, Taylor is openly gay, fully out, and has not ever been a target for bullies. But you be the judge; this is, in part, what Taylor said:
“I use to be scared to say that I’m gay,” Taylor Ellis, junior, said. “It’s not fun keeping secrets; after I told everyone, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”
Ellis’s “secret” was first shared in the summer of 2012, with his friend Joelle Curry, junior, and his mother, Lynn Tiley.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Tiley said. “I don’t care because he’s my son, and I know he’s happier.”
Ellis struggled before telling his family.
Ellis waited until spring break of 2013 to tell the rest of his peers; he did so through the social media site, Instagram.
“I put it in my bio, and hashtagged pictures,” Ellis said. “When people would ask me about it, I just said ‘yes I am,’ and that was that.”
Although the thought of coming out, and the repercussions of doing so, frightened Ellis at first, he found that most of the student body, as well as the teachers, were very accepting of him.
“I wrote about it in Mrs. Williams class; it was when I first came out,” Ellis said. “She told me she was glad I shared that with her. We had a stronger bond after that, I think.”
Taylor does admit that, while most people have been accepting of his coming out, he has noticed some students distance themselves from him, though no one has verbally or physically or emotionally harassed him since he came out.
“Some guys are more reserved around me now. But not a lot of people have been mean about it, thank God. I’m actually in a good situation. I’m very lucky.”—Taylor Ellis
Lucky to be himself, open and out and visible, no matter what officials at the school say and do.
But this isn’t an isolated case; schools across the country are telling LGBTQ students that they cannot be themselves in yearbooks, and class pictures and in stories for the school paper.
Felicia Rivera is a junior at Brennan High School in Texas, and last year a school photographer snapped a photo of her holding her girlfriend on campus. The photo was the selected for a special Valentine’s Day page, but was suddenly pulled after the yearbook supervisor discovered the picture showcased a lesbian couple. Administrators said several leaders reviewed the photo and determined it was a little too intimate and violated the student handbook policy regarding public displays of affection.
"All children are welcomed in Northside schools. We make no judgment about students' sexual orientation or anything else like that. All students are welcome."— Pascual Gonzalez, director of public information for the school district
Unless they’re showing affection and they’re gay.
In another Texas town — La Feria — the local high school refused to allow transgender senior Jeydon Loredo to wear a tuxedo in his senior portrait for the school's yearbook as it allegedly violates "community standards," according to District Superintendent Rey Villarreal. Villareal apparently told Jeydon's parents that his picture would only be included if he wore "stereotypically feminine attire, such as a drape or blouse."
Jeydon, born biologically female but identifying as male, enlisted the help of the Human Rights Campaign [HRC] to petition the school board to allow him to appear in his yearbook in a tuxedo, and respect and recognize his gender identity. But, after a school board meeting, no action was taken in Jeydon’s case.
Luckily, in the case of Jeydon Loredo, the school board did finally act and allowed him to appear in the yearbook in the tuxedo he wanted to wear.
But seriously, though, what does that hurt? If you see a transgender student — born female, but identifying as male — in a tuxedo, who does that hurt? What difference does it make? What does it do besides send the message that transgender students aren’t welcome, aren’t allowed to be themselves?
And then, in Colorado, two students say they were let go from the Palmer High School yearbook staff — and two other students quit the staff — over decisions made by their advisor after they included a picture of a same-sex couple in the yearbook.
"She told me to in these exact words, you either cut the gay couple or I cut the page."—Rudolpho Tribulio, former Palmer High School Yearbook Staff Member
Tribulio and Anna Carmichael say the advisor told them that a lesbian couple holding hands could not be on a page they were creating about high school relationships, although a district spokesperson says the reason was that the picture showed too much PDA [Public Display of Affection].
I wonder, though, if the couple had been heterosexual, would this have been an issue? Apparently not because back issues of the Palmer High School yearbook confirm many cases of PDA in the book, all by opposite-sex couples.
The advisor removed the picture and ironically replaced it with a page called “Diversity.” Seriously. And the advisor also created new rules for the Diversity page: "No names, only the labels. So for a picture of a Muslim, she wanted to label them as a Muslim."
The district spokesperson explained that the Diversity page would be more of a collage, and would not have encouraged segregation: "We don't discriminate in any way or form, so we wouldn't discriminate or find that appropriate.”
They don’t discriminate unless you’re a same-sex couple, apparently.
It’s hard enough being gay, and being young — hell, sometimes it’s hard being LGBTQ and an adult — but when you have students who have the strength to be themselves way ahead of the curve; students who step out of invisibility and declare simply and plainly and clearly who they are, that should be celebrated.
Not edited out of yearbooks like LGBTQ students don’t exist.