Nebraska high school senior Michael Barth won the Class C1 poetry division at the NSAA state tournament last week, reciting several poems about gender identity.
The Gordon-Rushville student was then selected to perform in a "Best Of The Best" showcase on Nebraska Educational Television.
Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green requested today that Barth change the his program before recording his spot for the television program.
"We don't want to use a showcase for the best of the best to promote personal agendas," said Blanford-Green. Reportedly, the tournament judges did not find the content out of bounds for the contest, sponsored by the association.
Speech Coach Glen Lussetto, who personally judged the speech twice, claims it promotes acceptance, not an agenda. "And I'm about as conservative as they come in this speech community," he added.
The poem's opening lines read:
"Are you a boy or a girl?"
he asks, staring up from all three feet of his pudding face grandeur, and I say
"Dylan, you've been in this class for three years and you still don't know if I'm a boy or a girl?" And he says "Uh-uh."
And I say "Well, at this point, I don't really think it matters, do you?"
And he says "Uhhhm, no. Can I have a push on the swing?"
And this happens every day. It's a tidal wave of kindergarten curiosity rushing straight for the rocks of me, whatever I am.
Barth told The Huffington Post that Blanford-Green asked him to "completely change it into an entirely new poetry program in less than two days."
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.
Classmates and anyone who disagreed with the decision quickly created a Facebook group in support of Barth.
Several members posted the emails sent to Blanford-Green, urging her to reverse the decision:
According to members of the group, Michael had been in direct contact with Blanford-Green to discuss the issue.
Kim Buchanan, Barth's mother, posted this message on her Facebook earlier today:
So as you all know, my talented son Michael Barth was invited to be part of NSAA's Best of the Bestt. His winning poetry piece was on gender stereotypes and began with a quote from the song One Love. His speech coach was contacted yesterday by the executive director of NSAA - she wants Michael to change his poetry piece because she feels that Nebraska is "not ready for gender acceptance". I am absolutely floored! His speech is amazing and followed all of the rules of the speech competition - obviously-it won!! I encourage you to share this post, comment on it, email the Nebraska School's Activity Association tag any news Media you can think of Christine McDaniel Fankhauser . I think this is discrimination no matter how you look at it! Proud of you Michael for standing your ground!!!
Michael Barth had no plans to willingly change his poetry program:
I'm not really planning on changing anything. She didn't want it [to be] about gender acceptance, she didn't want it about stereotypes, she didn't want any connotation about who's gay in there. She basically asked me to completely change it into an entirely new poetry program in less than two days. That's uncalled for and kind of impossible.
David Feingold, NET's assistant general manager of content, finally announced NET was prepared to broadcast whichever selection Barth chooses.
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.
“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.
"The NSAA will continue to advocate for all students and promote equitable opportunities through activity participation."