Graduation was coming up at Kearney High School in western Missouri and, per tradition, seniors were invited to submit quotes to go along with their portraits in the school’s yearbook.
Joey Slivinski and Thomas Swartz, two openly gay seniors, took the opportunity to celebrate their sexual orientation, according to KCTV 5.
“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 deserves to live in the closet,” read Swartz’s.
The two told local media they chose the quotes because they were inspirational. But school administrators felt differently.
When the yearbooks arrived recently, Slivinski and Swartz found blank spaces under their names. The Kearney School District had removed their quotes without warning over concerns that they could “potentially offend” other students, KCTV 5 reported Saturday.
In a statement issued to parents and local media, the school district apologized to the students while also attempting to defend the rationale behind its decision.
“In an effort to protect our students, quotes that could potentially offend another student or groups of students are not published. It is the school’s practice to err on the side of caution,” the statement read.
“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,” it continued. “We acknowledge our mistake and will use it as a learning opportunity to improve in the future.”
The statement was signed by the school’s principal and Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely.
Slivinski and Swartz said no one approached them beforehand to say that their quotes were problematic, nor did anyone give them a chance to change them. They’re now planning to make stickers with their messages to place into the yearbooks of friends.
The school’s decision stung, the two young men said.
“They need to know what they did is wrong,” Swartz told KCTV 5. “I want to be able to tell other people my story about what happened.”
In a Facebook post last week, Slivinksi wrote that the school district “showed me that I am not accepted for being who I am.”
“Our schools are supposed to be a place that you can express being who you are. Today I realized Kearney isn’t ready for me being me,” he wrote. “I always thought Kearney was going up hill but quickly realized we’re zooming down hill quick.”
Slivinski’s post, which drew an outpouring of supportive comments, ended on a bitterly sarcastic note: “Thank you to the Kearney School District for making me feel like you’re ashamed of having a gay student.”
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