James Yoakley knew he would be courting outrage when he approved a student-authored article about the pupil’s atheism. As a teacher at Lenoir City High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, he wasn’t exactly in a hotbed of progressive religious tolerance.
But the adviser for the student newspaper and yearbook let the story go forward in the student publication, an editorial called “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist,” penned by a 17-year-old about her struggles in a Christian-dominated student body, according to local news.
That story caused a minor tempest when the school board blocked it from going into the yearbook, and set the stage for Yoakley’s bigger battle. The final showdown came when the teacher approved an article called “It’s Ok To Be Gay,” about a gay student in the school. That article did make it into the yearbook, causing an uproar from parents.
Yoakley quickly found himself transferred to another school, ThinkProgress writes.
Ousted for allowing atheist and gay-friendly stories to be published, Yoakley nonetheless said Lenoir was a great school. However, he also admitted that censorship of the kind he and his students faced was “endemic” to the area, he told MetroPulse.
If teens and the people in authority around them were more free to talk about being gay, could there be better counseling on establishing healthy same-sex relationships?
Still, he had encouraging words for students in the publication. “Keep writing. Tackle difficult subjects. Know your rights. Appreciate those who stand up for you,” Yoakley told the online newspaper.
Those rights might not actually extend to being gay, depending on where you are, in light of a story coming out of North Dakota.
A college football player named Jamie Kuntz claims he was kicked off the North Dakota State College of Science football team for kissing his boyfriend while on a trip for a game.
As reported by columnist Dan Savage, Kuntz was out of the game and in the press box when he kissed a man and was seen by others. He was later pulled off the bus by his coach and confronted about it (he lied about what happened), then later formally kicked off the team.
The letter confirming his ouster said a coach could kick anyone off the squad for “conduct that is deemed detrimental to the team,” which includes lying to a coach or school staff member, Savage reports. Kuntz was told his behavior was a “distraction.”
The incident also forced Kuntz to come out as being gay—something he had previously kept private.
Muddying the issue are reports that Kuntz’s boyfriend is a 65-year-old man. The stark age difference adds an uncomfortable layer to the situation and raises the question: If teens and the people in authority around them were more free to talk about being gay, could there be better counseling for someone like Kuntz on establishing healthy same-sex relationships?
Likewise, what is the effect on gay teens in places like Tennessee, where demographic statistics ensure there are at least a few gay youths in virtually every school in the state, but where discussion of being gay is patently discouraged? (And where the state legislature wants to ban any talk of homosexual orientation before ninth grade.)
To be sure, gay teens in socially conservative areas have it tough. A recent study even showed they are much more likely to attempt suicide than their counterparts in more liberal areas.
Savage’s own It Gets Better Project aims to reach out to teens like Kuntz and others possibly living in gay-unfriendly areas. The campaign is intended to “inspire hope for young people facing harassment.”
The project has attracted high profile personalities—including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Sarah Silverman and Colin Farrell—to record videos telling young gay teens that their situation will improve with time.
What is your “it gets better” message? Leave the positivity in COMMENTS.
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Ben Murray has been a frontline correspondent for Stars and Stripes and a producer on The Deadliest Catch. A normally calm person, Ben gets all kinds of fired up by abuse of power and ignorance in high places. To keep from igniting, he writes about these topics and more and does his best to keep the profanity out of it. But every once in a while... earmuffs, kids.