Arkansas High School Superintendent Defends Exclusion of Gay Student’s Bio
March 18, 2014 by Maureen McCarty, HRC Associate Director of Digital Media
Administrators at Sheridan High School, located just south of Little Rock, Arkansas, are standing by the discriminatory decision to not include an interview with an openly gay student, Taylor Ellis, in this year’s yearbook.
Moments ago, Sheridan Superintendent Dr. Brenda Haynes released the following statement:
"We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community. We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group. The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.
We have reviewed state law, court cases, and our own policies. It is clear that the adults who have the responsibility for the operation of the District have the obligation to make decisions which are consistent with the mission of our school. We have done so."
The school’s stance sends a dangerous message to LGBT youth across the country.
Yesterday, HRC President Chad Griffin sent a letter to Sheridan Superintendent Brenda Haynes and Principal Rodney Williams asking them to do the right thing for LGBT youth.
Join HRC and stand in support of Taylor Ellis and all LGBT students who are made to feel that their lives are not equally valid.
Taylor’s bio reads:
"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, Lyn Tillman. "I wasn't surprised at all," Tillman said. "I don't care because he's my son, and I know he's happier." Ellis, who said he struggles with depression, which has gotten better since he has come out. However, 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." "He had poured himself into it," Summer Williams, sophomore English teacher, said. "It was one of the best ones I read. I was just so proud of his openness, and his honesty. It was a risk; sharing that with his classmates, but they were very accepting. It was good for him. I could tell he felt better after writing about it." Ellis found that while people do not treat him with disrespect, some do seem to be more distant. "Some guys are more reserved around me now," Ellis said. "But not a lot of people have been mean about it, thank God. I'm actually in a good situation. I'm very lucky."
HRC’s 2012 youth survey reflects the urgent need to ensure schools are welcoming and supportive environments for LGBT youth. The survey found that some of the biggest concerns facing youth include grades and getting into college – but for LGBT youth, their biggest worries were non-accepting families, bullying and harassment, and a fear of coming out. And 92 percent of LGBT youth hear negative messages about being gay.
To learn more about HRC's groundbreaking youth survey, visit www.hrc.org/youth.
July 30, 2014