Censorship | Nebraska | News

Nebraska Student Poetry Champ Told He Can't Read Gay and Trans-Themed Poem on Public Television

Michael Barth, a student poet from Gordon-Rushville High School in Nebraska who won the Class C1 poetry division at the Nebraska School Activities Association with a poem that combined lyrics from Macklemore’s "Same Love" and a slam poem called "Swingset" by Andrea Gibson, has been asked to perform a different poem for an NET Television program because the NSAA says it does not want an LGBT agenda promoted, the Lincoln Journal Star reports:

BlanfordgreenThe request from NSAA has caused a firestorm in the high school speech community, which says it amounts to censorship. They have created a Facebook page called “Support Michael and Acceptance of Speech,” made numerous calls to NSAA officials to protest the request and alerted the news media.

NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green (pictured) said she decided to ask Barth to perform a different piece for the NET program because she doesn’t want the program to be seen as promoting an individualized agenda.

The NET show "Best of the Best" features winning performances from the state championship (but apparently not if they mention gay or gender identity themes).

NET Television is Nebraska's PBS and NPR affiliate.

Bridgeport speech coach Glen Lussetto, who describes himself to the paper as "about as conservative as they come in this speech community" said he speech does not contain profanity and promotes acceptance.

"Same Love" is, of course, the hit marriage equality anthem, and, "'Swingset' by Andrea Gibson is about a lesbian kindergarten teacher whose students wonder if she is male or female," according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Blanford-Green added:

“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.”

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.

Here is Barth's poem.

UPDATE: Barth WILL be able to read his poem.

Via NET's Facebook page:

An NSAA decision to ask a Rushville, Nebraska student to change the poem he read during the state championships for a subsequent NET television broadcast has caused a storm of controversy. Michael Barth won the Class C-1 state award for his presentation of the poem with a gender identity theme. He was scheduled to perform it for the Best of the Best broadcast with other state champions before the NSAA asked him to choose another selection because they considered the original poem too controversial for a statewide audience.

David Feingold, NET's assistant general manager of content, says NET is prepared to broadcast whichever selection Barth chooses to perform during the taping of the program Thursday. 

“Michael Barth is this year’s NSAA Class C1 poetry champion. NET Television is ready to record Michael’s award winning presentation, as originally planned. When Michael comes to the studio tomorrow, we’ll record the performance of his choosing, and will be included in the completed Best of the Best program which will air on NET 1 on Sunday, April 20th, at 9:00 a.m. and rebroadcast on NET 2. The full program will also be available on line,” Feingold said.

NET News will interview NET General Manager Mark Leonard on the controversy at 4:30 pm CT on NET Radio this afternoon.

UPDATE II: Here's an interview with Barth.

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Comments

  1. I wonder if she would have a problem with poetry that dealt with the black experience. Probably not, I'd guess.

    Posted by: Jack M | Apr 2, 2014 2:41:43 PM


  2. I can remember when PBS was courageous in it's programming. I doubt I would have picked up Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books had I not seen the first series on PBS. Now, I'm afraid, PBS is afraid of rocking the boat for fear of losing funding.

    Posted by: Michael W. | Apr 2, 2014 2:43:52 PM


  3. this kid is a brave and talented light and he deserves every ounce of our support.

    f**k this bigotry and discrimination.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Apr 2, 2014 2:43:55 PM


  4. oops, "it's" should have been "its"

    Posted by: Michael W. | Apr 2, 2014 2:44:27 PM


  5. "I don't want the speech platform"

    Uh, way to be a hypocrite. Obviously SHE has an agenda.

    Posted by: Killian | Apr 2, 2014 2:46:58 PM


  6. As a speech and debate coach, this represents the antithesis of everything we do, promote, teach, and preach daily. A public school funded with public dollars has no right to limit discourse in such a manner.

    Posted by: Glenn | Apr 2, 2014 2:50:33 PM


  7. I agree with what Jack M said!

    Posted by: disgusted american | Apr 2, 2014 2:50:57 PM


  8. Wait - so she wants to promote "speech" but without any actual "content" that might spark "debate." And this woman is a professional educator. The mind boggles.

    Posted by: Profe Sancho Panza | Apr 2, 2014 2:51:50 PM


  9. As her punishment, she'll have to live in Nebraska for the rest of her life.

    Posted by: David | Apr 2, 2014 2:52:04 PM


  10. Her justification is hilarious considering she's pushing an anti-LGBT agenda and has created controversy and debate about students, content, the activity of the NSAA.

    Also, just asking: his poem is just a combination of work written by others? Is that common in poetry?

    Posted by: JMC | Apr 2, 2014 2:52:15 PM


  11. Umm, hello, poetry is speech, missy, and it's either "free" or it's not. B-G is simply trying to cover her own butt just in case some conservatard gets all bent out of shape at hearing a good poet who dares to express an opinion or make an affirmation.

    Posted by: Onnyjay | Apr 2, 2014 2:53:50 PM


  12. Umm, hello, poetry is speech, missy, and it's either "free" or it's not. B-G is simply trying to cover her own butt just in case some conservatard gets all bent out of shape at hearing a good poet who dares to express an opinion or make an affirmation.

    Posted by: Onnyjay | Apr 2, 2014 2:53:54 PM


  13. it's like Stacey Campfield and his "don't say gay" bill - while he spends every other minute saying anti-gay things.

    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Apr 2, 2014 2:54:00 PM


  14. It always boggles my mind when a member of a minority group tries to silence or otherwise oppress a member of another minority group.

    Posted by: peterparker | Apr 2, 2014 2:54:15 PM


  15. Umm, hello, poetry is speech, missy, and it's either "free" or it's not. B-G is simply trying to cover her own butt just in case some conservatard gets all bent out of shape at hearing a good poet who dares to express an opinion or make an affirmation.

    Posted by: Onnyjay | Apr 2, 2014 2:54:31 PM


  16. Umm, hello, poetry is speech, missy, and it's either "free" or it's not. B-G is simply trying to cover her own butt just in case some conservatard gets all bent out of shape at hearing a good poet who dares to express an opinion or make an affirmation.

    Posted by: Onnyjay | Apr 2, 2014 2:55:43 PM


  17. So does a poem about four leaf clovers, unicorns and rainbows promote the Mythical Flora and Fauna agenda?

    Posted by: NotSafeForWork | Apr 2, 2014 2:56:38 PM


  18. Why would that boggle your mind, peterparker? Oppressed groups are more vulnerable to the socialization that leads to bigotry than anyone. It's sociology 101.

    Posted by: JMC | Apr 2, 2014 3:01:51 PM


  19. Fine. Let no liberal dollar support PBS anymore. I'm tired of the conservitard takeover of that part publicly funded network. I guess this fits in with the conservitards goal to drive pbs into the ground.

    Blanford-Green just started a battle she will not win, at least in the big picture.

    If I were ANY speech participant asked on her show, I'd refuse.

    Posted by: Just_a_guy | Apr 2, 2014 3:02:12 PM


  20. Where are all the usual trolls to complain about Macklemore?????

    I wonder how this will go off in black gay blogs actually.....

    Posted by: Rowan | Apr 2, 2014 3:03:25 PM


  21. Hitler would LOVE her.

    Posted by: Killian | Apr 2, 2014 3:04:15 PM


  22. If you're a Mozilla exec raking in $600,000.00+/year, you have free speech.

    If you're gay, not so much.

    Posted by: Martin | Apr 2, 2014 3:05:12 PM


  23. What is really interesting is that last year she tried to get a transgender non discrimination policy passed and it became a big issue, now she appears to be gun shy...

    Posted by: Randye | Apr 2, 2014 3:05:40 PM


  24. The public television station isn't the one imposing limits. It's the NSAA (so the school administrations.)

    Posted by: unruly | Apr 2, 2014 3:09:16 PM


  25. THIS IS HORRIFIC! We should be fighting this more than the Mozilla issue

    Posted by: Two Dads | Apr 2, 2014 3:10:13 PM


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