State Rep. Kevin Elmer, R - Nixa, is upset that two high school students wore T-shirts supporting gay rights while they worked at an elementary school book fair. Elmer saw the shirts for the Nixa High School Gay-Straight Alliance at his third-grade child's elementary school.
The picture shows the torso of a high schooler who was working at the fair. On it are stick figures, depicting gay and straight relationships, with the word “Harmony.”
"Our t-shirt has two guys holding hands, two girls holding hands, and then one guy and one girl," said Awreon Riley, "and it’s just all the sexual orientations."
Awreon, 15, is the president of the student group that made the shirt.
"It’s just Nixa students coming together to celebrate diversity,” said Awreon.
Elmer says he has no problem with the t-shirt, or even with high schoolers wearing it to high school.
"The shirt itself is not offensive. It’s what it was advocating for and questioning whether or not that advocacy needs to happen at the K through 4th grade level," he said in an interview on Friday afternoon. "It wasn’t a criticism of the students themselves. It was a question as to whether or not that advocacy needed to happen in that environment.
"They can go back to the high school. They can have their clubs, have those organizations at a level where their peers are learning and aware of certain things in the world . . . I just didn’t think on the elementary school level that’s where that needs to occur."
An advocacy group came to the students' defense in an e-mailed news release.
"Every day, Missouri students are subjected to some form of bullying. Research shows that schools with active Gay Straight Alliances provide a safe environment for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and their allies. HARMONY at Nixa High School is one such GSA, and we support them," said Stephanie Perkins, deputy director of PROMO, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization.
"Clearly, they’ve got constitutional rights and those organizations are sanctioned. The Nixa schools have put forth policies to make sure there are certain controls on things, and that’s stuff that's deemed appropriate, and they're operating within that," said Elmer.
He says he posted his tweet not as a politician but as a parent who was confronted with the topic of sexual orientation with his 9- and 11-year-old children at the school book fair.
"My wife and I know our kids better than anyone else and, when it’s time to breach certain subjects to talk about certain areas, that should be up to us as parents,” said Elmer.
The Nixa School District says the students are within their rights to wear the shirts on campus, and are protected the same way any other student group would be.
"The school district doesn’t have a stance on people’s viewpoints or liking things or not liking things,” said district spokesman Zac Rantz. "We have anything from Gay-Straight Alliance to Fellowship of Christian Athletes to Spanish Club to French Club to Bible studies."
Elmer says, in hindsight, Twitter may not have been the best place to voice his concern over the shirt being worn in an elementary school. Instead, he says he should have mentioned it to school administrators himself, which he said he did on Friday. He has since deleted the Tweet.