Champion Student’s Gender Stereotypes Poem Censored For Having An ‘Agenda’

Michael Barth is a senior at Gordon-Rushville High School in Gordon, Nebraska. Last week at the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) state championship, a poem he wrote won top honors in the C-1 poetry division, and like all those before him, Barth was scheduled to read his poem on the air for "Best of the Best" on a local Nebraska TV station, NET.

The only problem is that Barth's poem apparently was too offensive for the head of the NSAA, Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green, who demanded Barth choose a different poem -- the first request ever made of a student.

What was so offensive?

Barth's poem "combined lyrics from Mackelmore's 'Same Love' and a slam poem called 'Swing Set' by Andrea Gibson," the Nebraska Journal-Star reports.

Gibson's poem is about her kindergarten students, who don't know if she's a man or woman.

The request from NSAA started a firestorm in the high school speech community, which says it amounts to censorship. Supporters have created a Facebook page called "Support Michael and Acceptance of Speech," made numerous calls to NSAA officials and alerted the news media.

Blanford-Green says she wants to keep the television recording "as it was intended, to be a showcase for talent, not a platform for individualized agendas."

Deb Velder, the contest director agreed. Michael Barth is "to be providing us a script, but we have not seen it yet," Velder told "This is a taped production, it's not live, so we have editorial rights all through the production as we have had for the last four years. We have never had to exercise that right, but I didn't think he's going to travel all the way from Gordon and think that he's going to be able to jump on his platform."

What's all this "platform" talk? This is a high school student who won a poetry contest, and all of a sudden he's got an "individual agenda" and a "platform"? adds:

Barth's mother, Kim Bachan, said Wednesday her son was on the road heading to Lincoln for the recording session.

"The last time I talked to Michael, I think he decided to dig his feet in," she said. "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."

The speech has nothing to do with lesbian and gay rights, she said.

"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."

Meanwhile, local news stations 1011HD reports that the NSAA has just changed their decision and Barth can read his poem on the air.

"The NSAA recently experienced media attention regarding a non-discrimination policy to protect the rights of students. In an attempt to divert negative attention from the "Best of the Best" NET speech production, a decision was made to focus on the students achievements and the activity of speech in Nebraska."

"We were encouraged by the amount of support for Michael and freedom of speech. The Executive Director in collaboration with the NSAA Board of Directors, Nebraska Educational Television and Gordon-Rushville High School administration has made the decision to allow Michael to deliver his poetry interpretation as originally performed at the NSAA Speech Championships."

"The intent of my decision was not to stifle freedom of speech, but rather to avoid any negative connotations for individuals within this statewide production," said NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green. "The NSAA will continue to advocate for all students and promote equitable opportunities through activity participation."

Image via Facebook

Hat tipJulia Hinson

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