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.