In most high schools across America, yearbooks contain quotes under seniors’ pictures. You’re familiar with the common ones: “The only way to have a friend is to be one,” or “She walks in beauty as the night.”
Imagine the shock when Seniors Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz opened their yearbooks to find just their photos, names, but no captions underneath. Without advanced warming from their Yearbook Committee or School Board in Western Missouri, their quotes were eliminated.
Why? Because the two boys were openly gay and made amusing self-deprecating references to their sexual orientation. Here’s what Joey wrote: “Of course, I dress well. I didn’t spend all that time in the closet.” His classmate Swartz penned: “If Harry Potter taught us anything it’s that no one should have to live in the closet.”
Swartz and Slivinski were outraged and told television station KCTV5 and The Kansas City Star that they found their quotes inspirational. Slivinski said “thank you to Kearney School District for making me feel like you’re ashamed of having a gay student. The School District stung.”
Who robbed their quotes and their dignity? Who didn’t give them the opportunity to change the quotes? Kearney High School principal Dave Schwarzenbach and School District Superintendent Bill Nicely.
Their rationale for this homophobia? “In an effort to protect our students quotes that could potentially offend another student or groups of students are not published. It’s school practice to err on the side of caution.”
The school district later publicly apologized and spoke of the “incident” as a “learning opportunity to improve the future.” This happened only because School Board official Matthew Ryan Hunt received hundreds of phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages from Kearney students, past and present, and parents in support of Swartz and Slivinski.
Hunt, who is the first gay Board Member, commented “none of them ( School Board officials) know the sacrifices made and the courage shown by these two individuals to come out as gay in high school.”
Was this incidence a form of bullying by the school district? It’s not always the students who bully! Surveys report that the under age 30 group accept gender diversity. The students weren’t offended, the school officials were!
Swartz and Slivinski are now making stickers, quips into their yearbooks as well as those of their friends.
Maybe these proud gay students should have been nominated “most likely to succeed?”
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.