Education | News | Tennessee | Zac Mitchell

Christian School Board Member Stirs Firestorm in Tennessee Over 'It's Okay to Be Gay' Student Yearbook Article


Van Shaver, a school board member in Lenoir City, Tennessee, outside of Knoxville, is calling for the investigation of James Yoakley, a journalism teacher at Lenoir City High School, after an article about gay student Zac Mitchell was published in the school's yearbook.

Says Mitchell in the article, which details his coming out, donations to gay organizations, a trip to Nashville where he cross-dressed and some "straight guys hit on [him]", and his family's acceptance:

"There will always be people who bully me for being gay, but I don't care. It doesn't affect me and it never has. That's probably why they keep doing it. As a person who is all about love and peace, I know that you can't be fully or tryly happy until you are confident in who you are."

Shaver (pictured), in a blog post called "It's not OK," calls the publication of the article a "despicable act" and calls for an investigation by school administrators and law enforcement over it.

ShaverWrote Shaver on his blog:

In this twisted world we live in, some may believe It's OK to be gay but it's darn sure not OK for teachers to be promoting homosexuality in our high schools....

Mr. Yoakley is also the teacher who a couple of years ago refused to allow the two students Christian based article to run in the Panther Press. So apparently, Mr. Yoakley would discourage Christian values yet promote atheism and homosexuality.  
Some might think I'm intolerant toward homosexuals but that would be wrong. If an individual wants to be a homosexual, that's their own decision and they will have to live with the consequences of that decision. What I am intolerant of is an adult, a teacher no less, inflicting their personal beliefs and sexual orientation decisions on impressionable students.

If in fact it was Mr. Yoakley or any other teacher who allowed this article to be published in the year book, they should be dismissed from the school immediately. If it is found or known that Mr. Yoakley or any other teacher at any time has had any conversations or discussions with this student or any other student about their sexual orientation, sexual activities or anything about their private lives prior to those students being of legal age, those teachers should be charged with child sex abuse by an authority figure and arrested.

Knox News reports that petitions are being circulated hoping to deny Mitchell the right to attend graduation, and threats are being made at the student who wrote the article:

The yearbooks were distributed Friday. By Monday, local blogs had taken up the fight both for and against the article and the yearbook's faculty adviser, James Yoakley.

"I have received an unbelievable number of emails from parents and concerned citizens," said Lenoir City High School Principal Steve Millsaps.

According to students, petitions were being circulated urging others to tear the page from their yearbook as a sign of protest during graduation or to deny Mitchell the right to attend the ceremony. The 17-year-old student who wrote the article said she was afraid to have her name published.

"There have been threats made starting with, 'If I found out who wrote the story,' " she said.

Yoakley has been teaching at the school for 11 years, according to the paper.

Adds Shaver in his blog post:

"I and I know many other parents and members of our community expect a full and open investigation by school administrators and law enforcement into this issue and to hold accountable any and all those who had a hand in this despicable act.  To my fellow school board members. Contrary to what you have been told and taught, you do have the right and the authority to eliminate substandard employees. Exercise your authority."

(shaver image via knox news)

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  1. I see in the article that he says that he is a board member but when you go to the web site for the school district, he is not listed

    Posted by: metta | May 3, 2012 9:01:33 PM

  2. Tennessee: the other Texas.

    Posted by: gregory brown | May 3, 2012 9:03:36 PM

  3. If anyone wants to let Van Shaver know their thoughts on this issue, he posts his contact information on his website:

    Posted by: Travis | May 3, 2012 9:03:40 PM

  4. I would like to contact his supervisor and demand his dismissal. Does anyone know the proper channels? Who supervises the BOA?

    Posted by: pissed off | May 3, 2012 9:09:04 PM

  5. OK east-Tennessee... Now is the time to stand up. Every gay one of us knows what it is like to be gay and going to a public school.

    This young man is a hero. I remember exactly what (what was then called Junior-High) was like growing up. It was a awful place (as was high school) where I was always an easy target and it was just "accepted" that name-calling and aggression were understood to be my own fault because of who I happened to be.

    I knew I was gay at 12-years-old. I didn't come out until I was at UT and 19-years-old. I could have come out much earlier if, in fact, I had even one... EVEN ONE... person who supported me for being a human being who happened to be gay.

    Stand up. Support this young man. East-Tennessee is a tough row to hoe, no doubt, but we have other heros, like Norris Dryer, who show us that intolerance collapses with the understanding that being gay doesn't mean we're not still your sons and daughters... Your cousins and friends...

    Stand up and show this bigot that love is better than hate.

    Posted by: Chuck York | May 3, 2012 9:10:47 PM

  6. Let him have it!

    Posted by: Mike | May 3, 2012 9:12:47 PM

  7. Gee a homophobic Christian in Tennessee. The state is national embarrassment. The South is in a race to the bottom when it comes to tolerance and intelligence. The latter is proven out with actual test scores.

    Posted by: terry | May 3, 2012 9:27:58 PM

  8. I left him a voice mail suggesting that he called up the image of Tenneseans screwing their cousin behind the still, and that I was gonna sent Dolly Parton to straighten him out. I cleaned up the language, because it's his wife's voice on the ans machine. 865 986 6984

    Posted by: Bob | May 3, 2012 9:49:16 PM

  9. OK somebody should email Shaver that research article about homophobes likely having to deal with their own gayness first.

    Posted by: X | May 3, 2012 9:54:00 PM

  10. He wants law enforcement to investigate the article being publised?? Exactly what crime does he think was committed? Oh, maybe he means they should be investigating the threats made by the so-called christians in retaliation? Nah, probably not.

    Posted by: WOW | May 3, 2012 9:55:12 PM

  11. This is the e-mail I sent to the posted address...

    Mr. Shaver,

    Let me start by saying that I respect your right to your thoughts and understandings. I promise to be respectful, and I hope you will give me the same credit.

    For the record, I had no choice- at all- to be gay. It just happens to be who I am. I can no more choose to be attracted to women than you can choose to be attracted to men. It's an action of nature. Pure and simple. Truly, there is nothing I can do about it- the same as you and your attraction to women- (nor would I want to).

    Please accept that gay people exist. We're probably less than 4% of the population, but we're here. And to tell the truth, I would be very surprised if you do not know- and accept- people who happen to be gay among your friends and family.

    For the record, there is NO WAY to "convince" someone to be gay. You either are, or you are not. The same as being heterosexual. It is simply a state of being. Please do not be afraid of teachers, counselors, Cub-Scout leaders, etc., convincing someone to be gay. It just doesn't happen that way.

    What is important to me is that we accept all people in our community. Late elementary, middle school, and high school are incredibly difficult years for people who just so have happened to have been born gay. In my own experience, even though I had never had a sexual experience I knew at the age of 12 that I was attracted to members of my own gender. I didn't have a choice... I just happpened to be that way.

    Middle school and high school were absolutely brutal for me. I went to a high school of 2,200 students, and I was subjected to consternation from the student body every single day. Comments in the hallway... Being slammed against lockers... Students calling me "faggot" openly in the hallways. Even my best friend since second grade told me that he couldn't eat lunch with me anymore because his mom said people were saying bad things about me.

    I was a child.

    I remember in the 10th grade when my Algebra I teacher singled me out for ridicule and when I was shocked, his response was, "Oh... Look... The little fag is gonna cry... Cry, faggot, cry..."

    But the truth is that this was my home. I didn't know anyone else except the people surrounding me. These people... The ones punching me in the hallways and refusing to eat lunch with me... Were the only people on the planet that I knew.

    Please look in your heart. You know gay people. You accept them on some level. Please know that being gay in public school in east-Tennessee is an incredibly brutal experience. Even today.

    Accept gay or don't accept it, but please keep it on the philosopical level. Remember that children are really hurting and have very little access to help in the system that has been created in our state.

    Thank you,

    Chuck York

    Posted by: Chuck York | May 3, 2012 9:56:59 PM

  12. Mr. Shaver's Board of Education colleagues listed below;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;,

    Posted by: pissed off | May 3, 2012 10:02:17 PM


    Posted by: pissed off | May 3, 2012 10:04:45 PM

  14. Are all US "redneck" states competing for the title of most intolerant now? Because it sure seems like Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, N. Carolina, and Tennessee in particular are all in a race to the bottom. Why are these places perpetually finding themselves on the wrong side of history?

    Posted by: Tone | May 3, 2012 10:15:44 PM

  15. The problem with Tennessee turdblossoms is that they multiply. I hope this teacher takes them all to court.

    Posted by: Mykelb | May 3, 2012 10:19:43 PM

  16. Calling law enforcement?

    Trying to deny this kid attending his own graduation?

    Geez Louise. There aren't enough straight jackets in North America for this level of crazy.

    Posted by: bobbyjoe | May 3, 2012 10:27:07 PM

  17. Call the police and report what exactly? What crime was committed?? This is all kinds of crazy.

    Posted by: Rick | May 3, 2012 10:40:36 PM

  18. I sent him in email asking him if it made him feel like a real man picking on a teenaged boy. I was pleased that the majority of the comments on the Knoxville newspaper website support the young man and not this cretin.

    Posted by: homer | May 3, 2012 10:42:53 PM

  19. P.S. If that teacher's twitter feed is any indication, he is gayer than gay. This is probably all trumped up in order to get him fired.

    Posted by: Rick | May 3, 2012 10:54:30 PM

  20. What do you guys expect? This little speck of a town is just down the road a bit from Sen Stacey "Don't Say Gay" Campfield's district in Knoxville.

    Useless TN trivia: Despite the Frenchie looking spelling Lenoir City is pronounced Lin-OR City.

    Posted by: Biff | May 3, 2012 11:09:26 PM


    Can I call law enforcement over the design of this dude's website. He built it with "Microsoft FrontPage 6.0." It's like 1996 threw up on that thing. It's a crime against the internet! I'll need to watch the Helvetica documentary on repeat tonight just to get the image out of my head.

    Posted by: Charles | May 3, 2012 11:09:49 PM

  22. Let's hope this turns around and bites Mr. Shaver in the ass. The ONLY person who should be investigated is Van Shaver, a school board member in Lenoir City, Tennessee.

    Demand it!

    Posted by: OS2Guy | May 3, 2012 11:15:36 PM

  23. Why is a board member discussing personnel matters publicly? The teacher needs a lawyer, and should file charges immediately.

    Posted by: keltic | May 3, 2012 11:17:29 PM

  24. Not all East Tennesseans are as narrow minded and backward as Van Shaver. It just seems to me that people want to attack my state for the idiot comments from one man. As I said, please don't think we are all like this.

    Posted by: MPH | May 3, 2012 11:31:34 PM

  25. @Metta and Keltic: It's kind of confusing from the article, but the yearbook incident is taking place in Lenoir City Schools, whereas Shaver is a board member for the adjacent Loudon County Schools. So unless I misunderstand the situation, he's just spouting off as a 'concerned' (deranged) citizen -- but he does not have authority in the situation.

    Posted by: Rick | May 3, 2012 11:38:16 PM

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