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. pissed off says

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

  2. Chuck York says

    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.

  3. terry says

    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.

  4. Bob says

    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

  5. X says

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

  6. WOW says

    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.

  7. Chuck York says

    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

  8. pissed off says

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

  9. Tone says

    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?

  10. Mykelb says

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

  11. bobbyjoe says

    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.

  12. Rick says

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

  13. says

    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.

  14. Rick says

    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.

  15. Biff says

    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.

  16. says

    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!

  17. keltic says

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

  18. MPH says

    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.

  19. Rick says

    @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.

  20. Bob says

    Reasoning with someone like this is FOOLISH.
    You don’t understand that these people need to not have their houses of cards questioned, so whatever we say is from the devil

  21. Stalcom says

    I lived in east TN for ten years, and I’m disturbed by the degree of hostility shown to those involved in writing and publishing this innocuous article. It’s truly a shame–the people there were, in my experience, incredibly hospitable. It’s hard, though, to live in that area and not be within a quarter mile of a church or Christian bookstore.

    These poor kids…I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a gay high school student in east TN right now.

  22. says

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  23. GregV says

    @Chuck York:
    Your letter is polite and uses thoughtful reasoning. There is one point in it I would question:
    I long ago came to the conclusion thatto tell an obsessed homophobe that “I can’t choose to be attracted to the opposite sex any more than you could choose to be attracted to the same sex” is a losing argument.
    Most of the time, these people’s homophobia is a manifestation of their pathological disgust with themselves and the sexual feelings they fear within themselves.
    He would have absolutely no reason to attack gay people’s innocuous happiness with their own lives if he were not unhappy and uncomfortable in his own skin.

    He may read what you wrote and, even if subconsciously, feel that he does, indeed “choose” not to be attracted to men (i.e. repress, repress, repress, with all the repression coming out in destructive ways.)

  24. Neil says

    Some might think I’m intolerant toward christians but that would be wrong. If an individual wants to be a christian, 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 religious decisions on impressionable students.

  25. says

    If anyone believes these bigots like Van shaver can be reasoned or educated to tolerance then you are truly delusional.

    Bigotry is their platform, their driving mentality……and as long as there are uneducated dumb people believing in the resurrection of the body, three gods in one and tricks like turning water into wine and walking on water, ……as long as that is not laughed out of court you will have these neanderthals spouting their redneck opinions as if they were literate.

    The sad thing is that ba$tard$ like Van Shaver are the ones who drive kids to bully others to suicide.
    He should be publicly dismissed.

  26. Randal Oulton says

    Maybe it’s just me, but the microsecond I saw that Shaver’s guy picture, I went, “That guy is as gay as a birthday tablecloth.”

  27. St. Theresa of Avila says

    G-d in Heaven, the opponents of gay rights keep getting gayer looking.

    And please, there’s no point in calling these dipshits at their homes. It just makes the gay community look bad. Don’t sink their level – unless you want to do it in a really humorous way, like saying you’re Ted Haggard and you appreciate what he’s doing.

  28. Jim says

    Fixed this for ya, Shaver:
    In this twisted world we live in, some may believe It’s OK to be xtianist but it’s darn sure not OK for teachers to be promoting religion in our high schools….

    Mr. Shaver is also the teacher who a couple of years ago refused to allow the article profiling a gay student to run in the Year Book. So apparently, Mr. Shaver would discourage equal Human values yet promote religion and bigotry.

    Some might think I’m intolerant toward xtianists but that would be wrong. If an individual wants to be a xtian, 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 religious decisions on impressionable students.

    If in fact it was Mr. Shaver or any other teacher who prevented 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. Shaver or any other teacher at any time has had any conversations or discussions with this student or any other student about their religion, religious activities or anything about their private lives prior to those students being of legal age, those teachers should be charged with child abuse by an authority figure and arrested.

  29. Steve says

    Careful about what you send this vile toad. He is apparently collecting “evidence” on his blog in order to claim persecution and victim status

  30. Francis says

    The backlash is on and it’s strong, boys and girls. It’s very, very strong.

  31. Francis says

    What’s ironic is how social conservatives and the brainwashed youth who listen to them always tend to say “if you didn’t make homosexuality an issue it wouldn’t be one” yet they go out of their way to make everything gay an issue, they say they don’t care about ones’ sexual orientation yet always prove how much they care with their hateful attacks against our community. They go out of their way to attack 16-18 year old teenagers while saying they care so much about the well-being of children. These countless stories coming from these social conservative backwaters regarding anti-gay bigotry just make you realize how hateful these individuals truly are. They REALLY do hate us. And the more we’re seeing straight youth come out in support, the more our community stands up and doesn’t take this discrimination laying down, the more severe the hate has become.

  32. David Hearn says

    Terry – Where are you from and where do you currently live? I ask because I find it amazing that anyone thinks “the South” has a monopoly or even a majority share in ignorance. They have religious rightists everywhere- Sweden and Norway, in Alberta, in California and Maine. And don’t forget that all you bleeding hearts that want to throw open the southern border and disregard the illegal aliens in the US are in fact enabling the Roman Catholic Church in the process.

  33. lorimakesquilts says

    Ah, a bigot’s blog, with no ability to comment. Typical pansy-assed behavior.

  34. MateoM says

    With regards to Van Shaver, I look to Mean Girls:

    “She doesn’t even go here!”

  35. WILLIAM says

    It’s people like this that gives “Christians” a bad name. True Christians are Christ like.
    He and all bigots are so unlike Christ.

  36. Steve says

    Things like this make me glad I live in London now! This kind of narrow minded bull should be outlawed and considered a hate crime! Pure & simple!

  37. Yacya says

    Are you serious?!? You can tell he is a bigot!!! When are people going to wake up and accept that being gay IS ok and there’s not a darn thing wrong with it. As a proud mother of a son who we all believe is gay and as an open bisexual I am outraged.

  38. oh boy says

    here is a poorly written response from board member, Bobby Johnson. Errors are verbatim.

    On 5/5/12, Bobby Johnson, Jr. wrote:

    I think something’s have gotten mixed up in this situation. Mr.
    Shaver is not a part of Lenoir City School Board but he is a member of
    the Loudon County School Board. We have 2 different school systems in
    our county and 2 different school boards. The issue the young man
    being gay is his business and if he wants to be gay that is his right,
    but it should not be aired out in the yearbook. Lenoir City Schools
    have censored certain items from being in the yearbook and school
    newspaper to keep trouble and disruption down. They would not allow
    students to talk about Jesus and Christianity and other beliefs
    because of the censorship but the yearbook committee decided to do
    what they wanted and went around the censorship. If we are going to
    censor to protect the students and hold down disruption then all
    things need to be censored, not just what one select group wants
    .People in the community didn’t approve of the yearbook because they
    felt that it didn’t need to be in the yearbook. It is amazing to me to
    see this committee cry out because they are the ones who wanted the
    censorship enforced because they didn’t want to hear about things they
    didn’t believe in but yet they want to have their say no matter if
    somebody else doesn’t want to hear about it. If their is going to be
    censorship then it needs to apply to everything not just what one
    group wants or believes.

  39. Alan says

    I am deeply saddened for this young man and all others who have been treated in such a manner. These young people are worthy of care, love, and respect as all other students.

    I am much older than these students and I would have hoped we would have evolved to a more receptive state of being after 45-50 years.

    Young men and women who are gay, please believe there are people who care for you, respect you, and are willing to step in and defend you. You are not alone.

  40. says

    summary: bigoted old white man is furious that a young gay black man is in no way shape or form afraid of him.

    suck on that, bigot.

  41. Lisa says

    Some thirty plus years ago, I attended this high school and I knew Van as a very average teenager. My opinion is that his bigotry probably came straight from his church. I don’t think theories raised here about latent homosexual tendencies ring true with him – it’s more a case of religion gone toxic coupled with growing up in a small country town where it’s considered acceptable to be a bigot.

    I doubt if he’s ever ventured very far from that small country town and it’s clear from his website that his mind never ventures far from being judgmental & vindictive. It’s his way or the highway and he clearly has such a powerful sense of knowing-it-all that his mind is slammed shut. The source of his knowledge base is exceedingly small.

    I suspect he accomplished little in his life and maybe this is over-compensation.

    I don’t know if added insight into the makings of a bigot are helpful. I guess the only way of dealing with them is legal protections for their victims but I thought I’d share in any case.