By John Lyon
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — The superintendent of the Sheridan School District on Tuesday defended the decision of school officials to ban publication in Sheridan High School’s yearbook of a profile of a gay student that would have included his coming-out story.
The student, junior Taylor Ellis, appeared with supporters Tuesday at a news conference at the state Capitol organized by the Human Rights Campaign, a national group that promotes civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group said it had collected more than 30,000 signatures, thousands of them from Arkansans, on an online petition calling for the profile to be published.
District officials decided to block publication of seven student profiles in the yearbook after voicing concerns about Ellis’ profile, written by junior Hannah Bruner. Sheridan School District Superintendent Brenda Haynes defended the decision Tuesday in a statement issued by the district.
“We must make decisions that lead in the proper direction for all of our students and for our community,” Haynes said. “We must not make decisions based on demands by any special interest group. The seven profiles will not be published in the yearbook.”
Haynes said the district has reviewed state law, court cases and its 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,” she said in the statement.
A phone message left at Haynes’ office was not immediately returned Tuesday.
At the news conference, Ellis, 17, said he is openly gay.
“It’s not something I’m ashamed of,” he said. “In fact, I’m proud of who I am. That’s why I can’t understand why my school was trying to force me back into the closet.”
Ellis’ mother, Lynn Tiley, said she was told administrators were concerned that the profile of Ellis was “too personal” and might endanger his well-being, but she said that since Ellis came out two years ago, he has encountered fewer difficulties with classmates than before.
“I accepted it, and everybody else needs to accept it as well,” said Tiley, who became choked up while talking.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and an Arkansas native who attended elementary school in Sheridan, said school officials are supposed to protect students from bullies, “but in this case the principal and the superintendent are the bullies.”
The Human Rights Campaign has sent letters to Gov. Mike Beebe and state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell asking them to get involved and see that the Ellis’ profile is published.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Tuesday the governor did not plan to intervene.
“That’s a local school district issue. That’s not anything we’re getting involved in,” DeCample said.
A spokeswoman for Kimbrell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.