Gay Arkansas student says his profile was pulled from yearbook, supporters rally

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Thursday, March 20, 2014 - 11:28am

An Arkansas student says his high school is "history" after school officials pulled a profile of him from the school yearbook because he is openly gay.

Taylor Ellis, 17, told CNN affiliate KATV that Sheridan High School pulled seven student profiles from the Yellowjacket yearbook rather than publish an account based on his coming out.

"It's a big thing in Sheridan to be gay," the yearbook's assistant editor, Hannah Bruner, told KATV of why she profiled Ellis. "That something that doesn't get told a lot."

In a statement, Sheridan Superintendent Brenda Haynes said, "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 The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook."

She added, "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 district decided to scrap the seven profiles rather than publish Ellis' story, Bruner said. To Ellis, the reason for taking out all the profiles was clear.

"We have a good idea why they're not going into the yearbook," he said. "They don't want to just throw out the gay kid's interview."

Ellis, who came out a year ago, said he didn't understand the decision.

"I'm already openly gay," he told KATV, "so there's no reason that it should affect how people see me."

Bruner's profile of Ellis said, in part, "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."

Ellis' mother said the principal, Rodney Williams, contacted her.

"I didn't understand, because there had been no problems, so I ask him, 'have you had threats?' " Lynn Tiley told KATV. "He said, 'no, ma'am, just his well-being.' "

On Tuesday, representatives from a national civil rights organization staged a demonstration on the State Capitol steps in support of Ellis, KATV reported.

"This discriminatory exclusion by Sheridan High School administrators has nothing to do with Arkansas values," said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

On Wednesday, Williams was to receive a petition with more than 30,000 signatures asking that the decision be reversed, KATV reported.

The Human Rights Campaign urged Gov. Mike Beebe and the state's education commissioner, Tom Kimbrell, to intervene, but representatives of their offices said it was a matter for the local school district.

"They're history," Ellis said of his high school. "When I'm done with Sheridan, I'm done with Sheridan. I have one more year, and after that, I'll thank God every day that I'm not there anymore."

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