The Human Rights Campaign-Kansas City rebuked Kearney School District officials for not apologizing publicly to gay graduates whose quotes were stripped from the 2017 yearbook.
The HRC “would like to express its deepest disappointment in the outcome of last night’s Kearney, MO School District board meeting. We hoped for an apology. One did not come,” the group said in a Facebook post Thursday.
Five members of the HRC, the largest civil rights organization in the country advocating for LGBTQ rights, attended Wednesday night’s school board meeting in Kearney where one of the two recent graduates whose quotes were omitted from the yearbook addressed the board.
A week ago, when Thomas Swartz and classmate Joey Slivinski opened their Kearney High School yearbooks, they found blank space beneath their senior photos.
Students making a comment under their senior portraits in the yearbook is a longtime tradition at high schools.
Both Slivinski and Swartz, who are openly gay, took the opportunity to celebrate their sexual orientation, with quotes that each believed were inspirational and reflected who they are.
District officials flagged their quotes and those of nine other students because of some problems the school had with the quotes, but officials did not identify those problems.
The quotes were removed without warning, and school officials later said Slivinski’s and Swartz’s quotes were omitted because of an error in communication. Students were supposed to be called to defend their quotes, but they were not.
At Wednesday’s meeting, after Swartz addressed the board, a teacher who said he represented the faculty and a parent defended the school. Board president Mark Kelly scolded board member Matthew Ryan Hunt, who is gay, for supporting the two students in a Facebook post last week, rather than handling the matter quietly.
After the situation drew attention on social media, school officials said they received numerous threats of violence.
On Thursday, Angie Cottrell, a volunteer member of HRC who attended the meeting, said what she heard from school officials at the meeting was that “they just want this to go away. But we just can’t let this go.”
She said the HRC’s role is to stand up for people like Swartz and Slivinski who have “tried on their own to fight the good fight” but have gotten nowhere.
“We hoped they would use this meeting as an educational moment for their community,” Cottrell said. “We hoped they would make Thomas feel validated and appreciated for being his authentic self and speaking his truth. It did not happen. Instead, they made someone who was feeling small and marginalized even more marginalized.”
She said, “The district has been given ample time to make this right.”
The HRC now is calling on Kearney High School and the Kearney board of education to apologize directly to the two students; reprint the yearbook to include their quotes; and provide additional diversity and inclusion training to school staff and the board.