The Nebraska School Activity Association (NSAA) tried to prevent a student from reading his award-winning speech about acceptance and challenging stereotypes, but grassroots advocacy caused the group to reverse its decision within a matter of hours. GLAAD, as well as other equality and fairness groups, immediately contacted the NSAA to express concern and urge the organization to reverse its decision.
High school senior Michael Barth, as one of only nine winners at a statewide speech competition, was scheduled to read his piece at the "Best of the Best" event to be aired on Nebraska's PBS affiliate NET Nebraska. Just two days before the taping, though, NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green called Michael to say his piece was "controversial" and needed to be changed.
Michael's piece samples the works "Same Love" by Macklemore, "Manly Man" by Bradley Hathaway," and "Swingset" by Andrea Gibson. Michael states in his reading, "Stereotypes do nothing but discourage individuality, and arbitrarily define masculinity and femininity. I am not here to talk about what it means to be gay or what it means to be straight. I am here to talk about what it means to ignore society's expectations of yourself and be your own individual person." He explains he chose samplings that "demonstrate the struggles that both men and women go through on a daily basis when they are being judged for not acting like their gender 'should.'"
"They declined it because the executive director of the NSAA believes that it was advocating transgender rights and that demographic of people… 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," Michael told The Huffington Post earlier today.
"We don't want to use a showcase for the best of the best to promote personal agendas," said Rhonda, according to Omaha.com.
Over the course of a couple of hours, people mobilized to defend Michael. A Facebook group, "Support Michael and Acceptance of Speech" was created, #LetMichaelSpeak took hold across social media platforms, and a MoveOn.org petition garnered more than 1,000 petitions.
While local Nebraskans and state-based organizations stood up for Michael, the story quickly gained national attention as well. GLAAD reached out to Rhonda, urging the NSAA to retract its decision, and spoke with an array of advocates and outlets to make Michael's story heard.
As the attention mounted, NET Nebraska released a statement, assuring they would support Michael, whatever he chose to read:
— NET Nebraska (@NETNebraska) April 2, 2014
Shortly after, NSAA reportedly released its own statement, in which the group agreed to let Michael speak:
Less than 6 hours after the online campaign launched, the matter was resolved, demonstrating how much youth, social media, and an interest in equality can accomplish. The "Best of the Best" Speech Awards will air Sunday, April 20th, at 9:00 a.m. on NET Nebraska.