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This School Removed Gay Students' Senior Yearbook Quotes and People Are Pissed

This School Removed Gay Students' Senior Yearbook Quotes and People Are Pissed

This School Removed Gay Students' Senior Yearbook Quotes and People Are Pissed

"Of course I dress well, I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing."

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As school comes to end for students around the country, high school seniors work hard to come up with witty quotes to be memorialized next to their photos in their class yearbooks. Two Missouri High School students were robbed of the chance when they opened their 2017 yearbooks and found their senior quotes were removed.

Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, who are both openly gay at Kearny High School, chose innocent quotes alluding to coming out. "Of course I dress well, I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing," Slivinski's read. Swartz wrote, "If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one deserves to live in the closet."

School administrators who thought the sentiment was more inappropriate than quippy censored the quotes without consulting the boys. "In an effort to protect our students, quotes that could potentially offend another student or groups of students are not published," the school said in a statement.

The boys were understandably upset when their quotes were left out of the yearbook, and even more so when they understood why. "I went to find my quote in the yearbook but nothing was there," Slivinski told KCTV5. "I’m proud to be from Kearney and I’m proud to be who. I’m just disappointed at what happened."

"It was a blank picture under my name," Swartz added. "They need to know what they did is wrong. I want to be able to tell other people my story about what happened."

Matthew Hunt, an openly gay school board member at Kearny High, was outraged by the turn of events and spoke out against the actions on Facebook:

To our district and community:

I would first like to state that I’m making this statement as a board member and elected official, not on behalf of the board or school district. In the past 24 hours I’ve received hundreds of phone calls, text and Facebook messages, and private messages from Kearney parents and students, both current students and graduates, regarding the issue of the yearbook quotes being removed. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the two students involved, Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, and their parents. I’m happy that the district has decided to publicly apologize to the students, but this issue goes much deeper than that.

None of my fellow board members or district administrators involved in this incident knows what it’s like to be openly gay in such a small town like Kearney. None of them know the sacrifices made and the courage shown by these two individuals to come out as gay in high school. They were courageous enough to be themselves and stand tall, which is something I couldn’t do in 2009 when I attended Kearney. When I spoke to both of these young men, I told them I would try to get to the bottom of why this happened. I applaud the principal for calling their parents and speaking with me as well. I told him about my phone conversations with several community members and even some of his students who are demanding answers as to why this happened. He was able to tell me the process and how these quotes would be evaluated, which I greatly appreciated. I’m pleased to hear that the district’s intent was to keep students safe, however, we didn’t fulfill that promise and we didn’t protect these two young men.

The district’s intent was to remove potentially offensive quotes and instead they offended the LGBTQ community in our community and in our schools. They also offended these young men’s classmates and allies who support the quotes given by Joey and Thomas. The given quotes represent these young men and express to their classmates who they are and what they represent. We’ve spoken about how Kearney has progressed since I was elected in April. We’ve seen our community elect its first gay representative. Having to make a public statement over the issue of homosexuality and quotes in a yearbook is not what I thought I’d need to do in this role, but I will continue to speak up to the board and district when I see something we can do better.

I was chosen by this community to be the voice on this subject and to reach out to the district to find out why this happened. I know we can’t put these quotes back into already published yearbooks, which is unfortunate and we’ll have to live with that for a long time. It’s not easy to admit that the district made a significant mistake such as this. However, I represent the people who elected me and I have a voice that matters as well. I’m a gay man who happens to be newly elected to the Kearney School Board. I don’t hide who I am or what I stand for. This issue came to me from the community and from these two young men. I am here to publicly say that I support their quotes, along with many community members, and feel ashamed that they weren’t given the same respect as other students. They had no warning that their quotes would be removed. They will forever look at a blank space under their photograph that should have been filled with something meaningful that expressed themselves as human beings. I fully support Joey and Thomas and the quotes they submitted for their yearbook. If a quote about Harry Potter or fashion represents them as individuals, then I don’t see why we wouldn’t allow these to be published in the yearbook. The quotes are inspiring and give us a glimpse into their lives navigating through high school as young gay men finding their place in the world.

Hunt went on to list other potentially offensive senior quotes that had been permitted in the yearbook, acknowledges that the school made a clear mistake, and asks us all to keep pushing for change and moving forward.

Kearny High School released an apology to Schwartz and Slivinski. "It is the school’s practice to err on the side of caution," wrote Kearney High School Principal Dave Schwarzenbach and Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely. "Doing so, in this case, had the unintentional consequence of offending the very students the practice was designed to protect. We sincerely apologize to those students."

The boys aren't letting the school hijack their senior memories. They're printing out stickers of their quotes to include in all of their friend's yearbooks. They're also fighting to make sure nothing like this happens to any LGBTQ students at the school again. "I and many others feel that the direct discrimination from the School Board has ruined my last year of being a kid," Schwartz wrote on Facebook. "Now as an adult (in the eyes of the law), I am going to do everything in my power to break the box that our school district is trying to shove me into."

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!