Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nebraska School Activities Association tells Class C1 Poetry winner not to read his piece on NET TV; ACLU not amused; was NSAA director cowed by anti-LGBT disinformation tactics of right-wing Nebraska Family Alliance last year?

Update: NSAA caves to public outrage and a stern admonition from Nebraska's ACLU, says Barth can read his piece on Nebraska Public Television. Here's the statement, via the World-Herald. KETV says The Best of the Best program will air April 20 at 9 a.m. on NET 1 and that the full program will also be available online.

Michael Barth
After Michael Barth, a student poet from Gordon-Rushville High School won the Class C1 poetry division at the Nebraska School Activities Association with performance piece incorporating excerpts from Same Love, Swingset and Manly Man, he was asked by NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green to perform something else or else.
     Said Blanford-Green to Margaret Reist of the Lincoln Journal-Star:
“I don’t want the speech platform to be seen as pushing an individualized agenda. If we have the opportunity to promote speech in a positive light that doesn’t create controversy or debate about students, content, the activity of the NSAA – that drove my decision.”
Nebraska Student Activities Association
Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green
     If you read between those lines and saw a right-wing, troglodyte, anti-LGBT authoritarian, you'd be wrong. Blanford-Green isn't. More from the Journal-Star:
     Last year, she tried to introduce a non-discrimination policy for transgender students. That proposal erupted in controversy, and the NSAA board decided to let districts handle the issue on a local level.
     That experience played a part in her decision, she said Wednesday.
     Aha! Constant readers of AKSARBENT probably have already figured what is really at play here: a cowed bureaucrat whose proposed reforms were attacked last year by the Nebraska Family Alliance, a right wing religious pressure group which launched a campaign against proposed NSAA reforms, using disinformation and scare tactics, eloquently refuted by Zack Ford at ThinkProgress.
     Here's what student Barth told the HuffPost:
"I was contacted on Sunday that I was selected for the Best of the Best showcase ... and we had to send them a physical copy of my speech. And they read through it and they declined it because the executive director of the NSAA believes that it was advocating transgender rights and that demographic of people. The real controversy is how they're seeing that in the poetry. My poetry program is not advocating gay rights or straight rights or transgender rights or anything like that. It's about love and accepting each other." Students and supporters of Barth have created a Facebook support page which has 426 members and growing.
     Barth's mother told the Omaha World-Herald's Joe Dejka:
“This is the speech he won with; it was seen by seven judges at state speech. They found nothing wrong with the content. And there is nothing wrong with the content.”
     “All this is about is, basically what his stance is is you shouldn't look at a man and, because he's feminine, think that he's gay,” she said. “And so, the fact that she thinks it's about lesbian and gay rights, and that's why we're denying it, really bothers me.”
     ...Her son is a youth group member, a drama kid and an excellent student.She said he's been accepted into the Johnny Carson theatre program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
     “He's just a great kid. He's always been somebody who is everybody's friend, and has very strong beliefs about things.”
     Blanford-Green said Barth can keep his Class C-1 title, but has to pick a different poem to perform for the Best of the Best broadcast on Nebraska Educational Television.
     She said the association decided the poem was inappropriate to feature in the broadcast because people could perceive that the NSAA endorsed the speech content. It would invite controversy, she said.
     Deb Velder, contest director, said Blanford-Green made the decision to ask Barth to prepare a different speech.
Previous winners at NSAA speech competition. Photo: Brian Blobaum
     On Wednesday, the Nebraska ACLU issued a statement on the imbroglio. Director Amy Miller said the NSAA doesn't get to decide what will offend moral standards, is constitutionally obligated to allow students to present speeches without censorship and found troubling the assertion that Barth's speech "advances a political agenda. The lives of gay and transgender people should be able to be discussed without being labeled as a political agenda.”     
    The Lincoln Journal-Star said Barth's supporters, in addition to creating a Facebook page, made a number of calls to NSAA officials and alerted news media.
     Bridgeport speech coach Glen Lussetto said he judged Barth's speech twice and said it promotes acceptance, not an agenda. He said Barth removed all profanity and other content that could be deemed offensive before the state contest. And, Lussetto said, the performance didn't offend him.
     “And I’m about as conservative as they come in this speech community,” he said.
     ...Merrell Nelsen, superintendent of Gordon-Rushville Public Schools, said the district supports Barth and is also thankful the NSAA gave him the opportunity to perform on NET.
     What he should perform should be between Barth and the NSAA, he said.
     "I talked to Michael and wished him the best and told him he would have to make his own decisions and we’d support him whatever he decided to do," Nelsen said.

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