- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A state champion speech student will be allowed to perform a poem about gender identity for television after originally being asked not to by a statewide schools organization.

Michael Barth, a senior at Gordon-Rushville High School, was asked to change the content of a performance to be recorded for Nebraska Educational Television.

Barth won the Class C-1 poetry division with poems that combined lyrics from hip-hop artist Macklemore’s “Same Love” and a poem called “Swing Set” by Andrea Gibson. Gibson’s poem is about a lesbian kindergarten teacher whose students don’t know if she is a man or a woman.

Earlier, Rhonda Blanford-Green, executive director of the Nebraska School Activities Association, said people could have perceived that the NSAA endorsed the speech content and it would invite controversy.

“We want to keep it as it was intended, to be a showcase for talent, not a platform for individualized agendas,” she said.

Later, the NSAA released a statement that said it would allow Barth to perform his poetry interpretation as he did in the speech championship.

“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,” she said in a statement released Wednesday.

The NSAA’s original decision drew criticism from the ACLU of Nebraska. Amy Miller, legal director, said in a statement the NSAA is constitutionally obligated to allow students to present speeches without censorship.

“Claiming that this particular speech advances a political agenda is particularly troubling,” she said. “The lives of gay and transgender people should be able to be discussed without being labeled as a political agenda.”

NET News said in a Facebook post that NET Television would record the performance of Barth’s choosing.

The program, called “Best of the Best,” is scheduled to air April 20 at 9 a.m. on NET 1.

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