We once heard social media described as truth serum — that on a long enough timeline, people cannot hold their tongues and will out themselves for who they truly are to the world.
Steve Kenney, principal of Center Academy in Pinellas Park in Florida, is an example of this phenomenon. He has now been outed to the world as a religiously inspired, fanatical homophobe who has no business shaping young minds. At least not until he gets the help he obviously needs.
Cyd Zeigler of Outsports has just published an account of an exchange he had over Facebook, and then offline, with and concerning Kenney, which started shortly after the mass shooting in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub.
Zeigler writes that he posted the following photo of himself kissing his husband to his personal Facebook page:
“The day after the tragedy, in the hope of reminding my personal network of the love in the world by sharing more pictures of gay couples kissing, I posted this photograph of my husband and partner of 13 years, Dan Pinar, and me on my public-facing Facebook account,” Ziegler says in his Outsports article, explaining his motivation for making the post.
As is often the case with social media, the message quickly reached beyond just his “personal network” and found its way to Kenney’s newsfeed, effectively popping the so-called “Facebook filter bubble.” Kenney responded to the photo first with a single word: “Sick.”
Kenney wasn’t done unloading his hateful rhetoric, turning to some of the worst passages of the Bible to do his dirty work for him thereafter, calling for the murdering of gay people.
Ziegler reports that this sent “shivers” down his spine, “particularly given the timing, literally hours after the Orlando shooting.”
“While Kenney was clearly not harming anyone physically with his post, and while it would be hyperbole to suggest there was any actual intent to do so on Kenney’s part, I thought about how religious doctrine was again at play, as it had been just 36 hours earlier in Orlando,” Ziegler writes.
“My heart sank as I clicked on Kenney’s Facebook page to see he listed himself as the head of Center Academy in Pinellas Park, Fla., just 100 miles from where the Orlando massacre took place and where the Tampa Bay Rays would honor the dead later that week. I wondered how an educator of young minds — a school principal — could not only think such terrible things about gay people, but go a step further and post them on a stranger’s loving photo only hours after the massacre.”
“It is horrifying to realize there are people in leadership roles in education who hold these repugnant views,” he quotes GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard as having said to him. “Saying gay people deserve to die is so far beyond the pale it is horrifying, and any time we learn of someone with those views, we must do what we can to make sure they are not directing the education of young people.”
To make matters worse, the school Kenney is a principal at is for students with special needs.
“How particularly ugly and horrifying that someone who works with a more vulnerable population, who are so prone to face additional challenges to having a happy and fulfilling life, would do this,” Byard said.
“Religion-based bigotry is shameful – it is wrong. Youth who are LGBT are at high risk of suicide and negative health harms and are subject to harassment and violence,” Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride, a national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students, told me when I asked for his reaction. “The principal needs to create a safe learning environment for all students. I don’t see how such a person would be able to do that for LGBT youth. His posts are deplorable in light of the Orlando shooting – and simply not what you expect of a principal. Parents and families should be appalled and asking serious questions about this school.”
Ziegler reached out to Center Academy CEO Andrew Hicks to inform him of Kenney’s comments. Hicks told him that he had spoken to Kenney about it and that Kenney had promised not to make similar posts in the future.
When Ziegler inquired about disciplinary actions against Kenney or any LGBT education and training in the school, Hicks said he could not share that information but stated that he was looking into the possibility of LGBT training.
Ziegler attempted to speak with Kenney personally, but those attempts were ignored.
“I don’t want Kenney to lose his job. I don’t,” Ziegler explains. “I do want there to be repercussions for his insensitivity; if I were the school administration, I would consider suspending him without pay. And I do want this whole thing to be a learning experience for him and a catalyst for change for the school. I want the parents and administration to be very aware of this issue. I want them to be the eyes and ears on the ground watching Kenney’s decisions. I want them to make sure that every LGBT student in that school feels included, and that programs are set up in Center Academy to ensure that Kenney’s statements about gay people being ‘sick’ don’t dictate school policy or programs.
“I want Kenney to introduce an LGBT speaker at a school assembly. I want Kenney to shake the hand of a gay athlete sharing her story with the athletic department.
“I know the school will ultimately find its way through this, and I share this story publicly to make sure it does.”