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.

Comments

  1. Michael W. says

    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.

  2. Glenn says

    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.

  3. Profe Sancho Panza says

    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.

  4. JMC says

    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?

  5. Onnyjay says

    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.

  6. Onnyjay says

    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.

  7. Onnyjay says

    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.

  8. Onnyjay says

    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.

  9. JMC says

    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.

  10. Just_a_guy says

    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.

  11. Randye says

    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…

  12. NotSafeForWork says

    After reading this story several times, I am wondering how Blanford-Green can control what a private citizen does on a PBS show? She has no control over the citizen nor the show. The answer to Blanford-Green should be “duly noted” and then read your poem. The operative word is “request”. She can request all she wants, but it doesn’t appear she has any power over PBS programming or material.

  13. Mendoza says

    I agree, this is very upsetting and clearly highlights discrimination toward LGBT or LGBT topics and stifles this kid’s free speech.

    I hope LGBT leaders and organizers form together to support this child and challenge this school and leader any means how.

  14. Alex Chung says

    She should be fired for this. No questions asked. This is a case of a speech teacher COMPLETELY abusing her position and doing the most offensive act in the job criteria (enforcing her set of beliefs on the speech of a high school student and penalizing him for it). She should be FIRED. Period.

  15. Padilla says

    I agree with others, we need to start fighting these local battles more collectively as a community and more forcefully. They thought they could threaten and target this boy due to his supportive message of LGBT assuming most people in nebraska don’t care about LGBT, and they may be right, hence why it’s important the national LGBT community comes together to fight these local battles because they matter.

  16. Kim Samuelson says

    Just to clarify: this is a poetry program, not a poem. The NSAA event is called Oral Interpretation of Poetry. No original works are allowed. On a different note: thank you for your interest and responsiveness. The “firestorm,” as it’s been dubbed, started at 10:00 a.m. (central time), hit local media outlets by 1:00, and was national by 2:00. Thank you so much. This student (whom I do not know) and all students deserve our support.

  17. Marcus Delrosa says

    Please call: 402-489-0386

    That is the direct number to this woman attempting to silence this kid, and her assistant picks up and will engage with you in conversation. The assistant also said Green herself will be available to chat after 4 pm (Nebraska time)

    PLEASE consider using your voice and being heard by calling.

  18. Kevin C. says

    Can someone call the number and tell us if the person on the phone cares? I think this is an important issue.

    If high school students can’t even recite a winning poem about love, how in the heck can we trust these schools to protect our LGBT students from hate?

  19. peterparker says

    For everyone who is considering contacting NSAA, *please* be aware that last year Rhonda Blanford-Green attempted to pass a non-discrimination policy for transgender students. Apparently, despite this unfortunately decision, she is at least somewhat of a friend of the GLBT community.

  20. NotSafeForWork says

    Just received this email auto-response from the NSAA:

    “The NSAA is reviewing their decision in regards to speech production. Thanks

    Rhonda”

    Again, Blandford-Green’s request duly noted, but I fail to see how she has any control over a NET TV / PBS.

  21. Ricardo says

    @Peter
    That’s two entirely separate issues. and I refuse to absolve this woman’s clear homophobia here due to one thing she did in the past. If someone was supportive of the black community in the past but displayed clear racism in the future, would you seek to ignore that racism? This is a case of ignorance and blatant bias against a gay topic and deserves ridicule for that decision.

  22. Fortitudeee says

    An agenda? No, this was a poem about love, acceptance and humanity. THIS WOMEN has an agenda against gays being respected in society. This is an outrage.

  23. Michelle says

    This is one of the craziest stories I’ve heard. This kid’s speech was perfectly appropriate, sensible, not offensive, no profanity nothing sexual in nature, and he won a major award for it recognized by a panel. Then one women, INVOLVED IN THE SPEECH INDUSTRY, attempts to silence him over her own prejudice? This really is like a story out of 1953 Arkansas.

  24. bluedogjim says

    To affirm what UNRULY said, it’s not NET (the PTV station) that has a problem with airing the poem – it is the NSAA (the school activities organization headed by Ms Blanford-Green) that is attempting to censor the young poet with her agenda. She is the one’s that we should be targeting our anger at.

  25. NotSafeForWork says

    @BLUEDOGJIM You are exactly correct. I fail to see how Blandford-Green can stop this. Is she physically restraining him? She made her request, but Barth can appear on an independent PBS show and present what he wants. I really want to know how Blandford-Green is stopping this. How can she control what Barth does and what show he appears on is the mystery.

  26. Michelle says

    Just saw on another site that Rhonda’s number to her office is 402-489-0386.

    Please call and respectfully make your point as to why her decision is flawed.

  27. Randy says

    Note: there are actually three works edited into Barth’s poem. I’m not sure why the middle one is being ignored.

    1. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – Same Love
    2. Bradley Hathaway – Manly Man
    3. Andrea Gibson – Swingset

  28. Andrew says

    That didn’t take very long. Glad it was reversed. Also, I read the poem, which I thought was very good. It should be noted that he makes it clear in that poem that he is not gay. He is a straight male who has some feminine physical features and he gets grief for it.

    Although I support him, this is a useful reminder that gender, gender expression and gender identity are NOT the same thing as sexual orientation.

  29. Diggin' A Hole says

    “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.

    Huh? What negative connotations? Diggin’ yourself deeper there, lady.

  30. Diggin' A Hole says

    “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.

    Huh? What negative connotations? Diggin’ yourself deeper there, lady.

  31. NotSafeForWork says

    The question still remains why NSAA, the high school and Blanford-Green would assume they had any power or right to abridge free speech and to “allow” Barth to go ahead and express his Constitutional right to free speech. Plus, Blanford-Green appears to support LGBT rights, specifically trans students rights. It’s all very bizarre and confusing.

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