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School board member in Missouri criticizes his district for censoring yearbook comments from gay students

Aug. 15, 2017
The Kearney (Mo.) district removed quotes from the high school yearbook written by two seniors who are gay.

An openly gay member of the Kearney (Mo.) school board has joined those criticizing administrators in the suburban Kansas City school district for removing quotes written by two gay students under their yearbook photos.

The Kansas City Star reports that board member Matthew Ryan Hunt posted a statement on Facebook reacting to the decision by the district to excise quotes that were supposed to be printed under the senior Kearney High School yearbook photos of Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, both of whom are openly gay.

"As Kearney's first openly gay school member...I stand with these men and hope that this statement will help not only them, but [also] our community feel more at ease,"  Hunt wrote on Facebook

“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.”

Kearney is about 25 miles northwest of Kansas City.

The quotes written by Slivinski and Swartz for the yearbook make humorous references to their sexual orientation.

“Of course I dress well. I didn’t spend all that time in the closet for nothing,” Slivinski’s quote read.

“If ‘Harry Potter’ taught us anything, it’s that no one should have to live in the closet,” read Swartz’s.

But when Slivinski, Swartz and the rest of the students received their yearbooks, those quotes had been removed.

District officials subsequently apologized to the students for removing the quotes; they said they did so because of concerns that they could “potentially offend” other students.

On his Facebook page, Slivinski wrote; “I have always supported the Kearney School District. I have done nothing but always say good things about our schools. I always felt like I was accepted for being myself. I’m not one to post my feelings on social media, but today Kearney School District showed me that I am not accepted for being who I am.”

In his statement, Hunt said: "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....

"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."

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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