If you had any doubt about how much further Indiana has to go in the struggle to understand that being gay is a natural phenomenon and not a lifestyle choice, you need look no further than what happened at a Fort Wayne area public school after a 10th-grade student wrote an editorial urging tolerance of gays. Woodlan Junior-Senior High School Principal Edwin Yoder called the editorial "inappropriate material" and demanded that he be allowed to review all school newspaper content prior to its publication in the future. Journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was warned by Yoder she would be fired if she didn't comply with his order. Kelly Soderlund of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette writes:
A student editorial in the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School newspaper calling for more tolerance for gays and lesbians sparked the principal to seek approval of each edition before it goes to print and issue a written warning against the journalism teacher.
About 10 students attended the East Allen County Schools board meeting Tuesday night to ask members whether the issue could be put on the next meeting’s agenda. Superintendent Kay Novotny denied their request and suggested they meet with Assistant Superintendent Andy Melin instead.
“That’s probably a better forum than the board,” Novotny said.
Sophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece – her first for the newspaper – that appeared in the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk that questioned people who believe it’s wrong to be gay or lesbian. Chase said she wrote the piece after a friend disclosed to her he was gay.
“I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society,” Chase wrote. “I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you.”
Principal Edwin Yoder wrote a letter to the newspaper staff and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell insisting he sign off on every issue. Sorrell and the students contacted the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for student newspapers, which advised them to appeal the decision. Last week, Yoder issued Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher. He accused her of exposing Woodlan students, who are in grades seven through 12, to inappropriate material and said if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired.
Yoder would not comment for this story, but Melin, who said he hasn’t read the editorial, said school officials do not have an issue with the topic but with the lack of balance and thoroughness in the opinion piece. Sorrell also should have consulted with Yoder before the article was printed, Melin said.
Melin would not comment on any disciplinary actions taken against Sorrell.
The students are naturally upset with Yoder's decision and have asked him to clarify exactly what the school's policy is on the tolerance of gay and lesbian students. An assistant principal told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette "there is no policy and didn’t think the board should have to go as far as to write one." The school cites a Supreme Court decision to defend its censorship of the school's newspaper. "Melin cited the 1988 Supreme Court case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which ruled St. Louis school officials had the authority to censor stories about teen pregnancy and divorce in its high school newspaper." But check out the response from the Student Press Law Center to that argument:
Adam Goldstein, attorney at the Student Press Law Center, said the Woodlan situation does not fall under the Supreme Court precedent, which permits a school to interfere with student expression only when it can provide a legitimate educational basis for doing so.
In the Hazelwood case, school officials were able to prove the articles went against what was being taught in the classroom.
“If students are not being taught tolerance in the classroom, their problem is much larger than this particular incident,” Goldstein said.
Yoder is practicing an illegal form of censorship, Goldstein said, and the Student Press Law Center has available attorneys who are willing to donate their time if the Woodlan students take the case to court.
So what Goldstein is saying is that the only way the school can rely on the Hazelwood case to defend its actions is if the school's policy to to teach students they should not be tolerant of gays and lesbians. Sadly, Yoder's actions in this particular case suggest that is what he believes. The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has a story on Woodlan's censorship of the gay tolerance editorial as well. It includes this comment from assistant principal Andy Mellin defending the censorship. “It’s the content of the article in terms of its level of its appropriateness and its balance. You have seventh- and eighth-graders that are far less mature than 11th- and 12th-graders.” The maturity level of the children in this case doesn't seem to be the issue. It's the school administrators.
Here's the full text of Megan Chase's poignant editorial which sent the school's administrators into such a hissy fit:
We live in a world where we grow up being taught that it is only acceptable for a boy and a girl to be together. So how do you think you would feel if as you grew older and more mature you started noticing people of the same sex as you, rather than the opposite?
I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today’s society. I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they’re just different than you. I’ve heard some people say that they think there is a cure to being homosexual. I can’t believe anyone would think that. It’s not a disease, or something that you catch from someone else; it’s something that they don’t have control over. In saying that, I also believe that homosexuality is not a choice. Almost everyone that I talk to says that a person chooses to be gay or straight. That, again, is something that I believe to be very wrong. If people made the choice to be homosexual, there wouldn’t be anyone who committed suicide because they were too afraid of what people would think of them, and kids wouldn’t be afraid of being disowned if they came out to their parents.
There is also the religious aspect to the argument, where people say that if someone is homosexual, they are automatically sent to hell. To me, that seems extremely unfair. So what are homosexual Christians supposed to do? The answer that I constantly get to that question is, “Just don’t acknowledge that they’re homosexual and live a ‘normal’ life.” Excuse me? So they’re just supposed to never find a partner, or marry someone of the opposite sex, have kids, and pretend they’re “normal?” I don’t think that’s right, or fair. I wouldn’t want to believe in something that would condemn me over something that I didn’t even choose.
It is fact that as many as 7.2 million Americans under the age of 20 are homosexual, and of those that have already come out, 28% of them felt compelled to drop out of school due to the constant verbal assault that they experienced after people found out. Now, if you think that is terrible, this is even worse: According to pflagupstatesc.org, every day 13 Americans from the ages of 15-24 commit suicide, and homosexual youths make up 30% of the completed suicides. I don’t understand why we would put so much pressure on those people, that they would feel that they have to end their lives because of their sexuality. Would it be so hard to just accept them as human beings who have feelings just like everyone else? Being homosexual doesn’t make a person inhuman, it makes them just a little bit different than the rest of the world. And for living in a society that tells you to always be yourself, it’s a hard price to pay.