Tenn. yearbook's profile of gay student brings calls for investigation

TENNESSEE — Somecommunity members are asking for an investigation of the yearbook adviser atLenoir City High School, after the 2012 book included an article about anopenly gay student.

On Monday, journalism adviser James Yoakley was asked intoPrincipal Steve Millsaps’ office to discuss the story titled, “It’s OK to begay,” after a parent wrote an email to the district, Yoakley said.

The student-written story profiles gay student Zac Mitchell,who discusses coming out, bullying, and his family’s donations to gay rightscauses and breast cancer research. Mitchell also describes an experiencecross-dressing with a friend while in Nashville.

Yoakley said the story was the student editor’s idea. Thisyear’s theme for the book is “In My Element.”

After the yearbooks were distributed Friday, an email begancirculating in the community demanding action from school administrators.

“It is time to take a stand for our faith,” the email reads.“We aren’t being called to risk our lives and go before a king like Nehemiah –but our walls are broken down and our gates are burning.”

Van Shaver, a school board member in a neighboring district,wrote on his personal blog that he wants a criminal investigation into the matter.

“If in fact it was Mr. Yoakley or any other teacher whoallowed this article to be published in the yearbook, they should be dismissedfrom the school immediately.”

Shaver also wrote that if Yoakley or any other teachertalked with students about their sexual orientation “prior to those studentsbeing of legal age, those teachers should be charged with child sex abuse by anauthority figure and arrested.”

Lenoir City Superintendent Wayne Miller declined to comment.

“The editor tried to capture the school from all thedifferent ways and places students fit into the school community,” Yoakley saidby email. “She did it quite well. The gay student was just one of many‘elements’ we covered.”

Yoakley said reaction to the story has been mixed.

A community member against the publication of the articlecreated a Facebook page, “Take A Stand Lenoir City.” The page had 75 “likes” asof Thursday evening. A Facebook group supporting the story, “Take A StandAgainst The Ignorance In Lenoir City,” was also created. It had more than 1,100 likes asof Thursday.

The parent email questions whether the yearbook staff wouldallow Christianity in the book. Yoakley said the book does, and cited contentfeaturing church hangouts, passages from Proverbs, John, Psalms and Philippians thatare also present in the yearbook.

Yoakley said his students did a good job, even though heworries about his position as journalism adviser. He said he believespublishing the story was “the right and legal thing to do.”

The same school made headlines in February after administrators refused to allow the student newspaper to print an editorial about atheism and the separation of church and state.

By Emily Summars, SPLC staff writer