Articles about homosexuality spark censorship of newspaper


Students filed lawsuit after principal censored paper, saying stories naming gay students could spur violence





CALIFORNIA — The staff of the student newspaper at East Bakersfield High School wanted to publish a spread on homosexuality in April in order to shed light on issues at the school. As a result of the efforts of school administrators, the spread remains unpublished.

East Bakersfield Principal John Gibson viewed the spread intended to run in the April issue of the Kernal the night before it was to sent to the printer. The next day the student editors were called in to speak with school officials, who convinced them to run the spread without revealing the identities of the gay and transgendered students who had been interviewed for the piece. Later that night Gibson ordered the entire piece removed out of what he described as a concern for the safety of the students in the article, Kernal adviser Randy Hamm said.

The spread includes interviews with openly gay students about how they are treated, a story listing statistics on homosexuality in America and violence against gays, and interviews with a student and a local pastor who feel homosexuality is wrong. The students gained permission slips from the parents of all the students quoted in the story, Hamm said.

The student journalists and the student subjects of their story filed a lawsuit against the school in May with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, asking for a temporary restraining order that would allow them to distribute the publication with the spread before the school year ended.

The Kern County Superior Court rejected the request for the restraining order on May 25, saying a full hearing was needed to consider the evidence.

Kernal Editor in Chief Maria Krauter hopes the students will receive a full hearing before the summer ends so the staff can run the spread in the first issue of the 2005-2006 school year if the judge rules in their favor.

'Obviously we would have liked for them to be published last year, but we're working with what we have,' Krauter said.

Joel Paramo, former editor in chief of the Kernal and a recent graduate, said the paper's wish is simple.

'All we really want is for our articles to be printed,' he said.

ACLU attorney Christine Sun, the students' representative, said the school district implied it had evidence of violence that was the cause for its concern for the students' safety, but the students did not believe the articles posed a risk to anyone.

'Just as a matter of logic, given that these students are already out, there's no new information in those articles that's going to have anything to do with their safety,' she said.

Krauter remains optimistic the paper will be allowed to publish its spread soon and views the experience positively.

'I think that it has been a good lesson for all the students involved and the community because it has kind of brought to light censorship and free speech issues, especially in the student arena,' she said. 'People will start to realize that you don't have to be an adult to have a voice.'


California, East Bakersfield High School, Fall 2005, reports