Dalton Maldonado of Kentucky was “humiliated” to find that his basketball-team portrait, seen here, was left out of his senior yearbook. (Photo: Dalton Maldonado/Facebook)
A gay college-bound athlete who experienced fierce harassment after coming out during his senior year of high school has spoken out this week about a final blow: having his basketball-team portrait left out of the yearbook.
“I was humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed,” Dalton Maldonado, 19, of Beaver, Ky., tells Yahoo Parenting. “But I don’t want other LGBT teens to look at what happened and think they can just be cut out. So now I’m speaking to whoever will listen. I’m not letting this one go.”
But according to an official statement by Henry Webb, superintendent of the Floyd County Board of Education, the senior’s photo was left out “in error” during the editing process, and any claims that it was purposely omitted are “totally false and without merit.” After all, Webb tells Yahoo Parenting, “It’s really unfortunate, but he’s in our yearbook 15 times. We totally support this young man.”
Though photos of Maldonado might indeed appear elsewhere in the Betsy Layne High School yearbook (which came out in June, but which the young man spoke out about this week on Facebook and in Outsports), the omission from his team’s double-page spread stung the senior point guard especially hard.
“When you identify as a high school basketball player, the one place you want to be is on the basketball page,” Cyd Zeigler, who cofounded Outsports in 1999 and wrote about Maldonado’s harassment in April, tells Yahoo Parenting. “If this was inadvertent it would be a strange coincidence — it’s not like people didn’t know very clearly that Dalton was on the basketball team. It’s actually too much of a coincidence to believe.”
Maldonado at his prom. (Photo: Facebook)
Being left out of one’s high school yearbook constitutes “an adult form of bullying and exclusion, and an adult form of shaming,” adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg told Yahoo Parenting back in June. That’s when various other stories were breaking out about seniors being omitted — either accidentally or on purpose — for offenses ranging from gender-bending outfits to having special needs. “We all look back at our yearbook, it’s a tremendous milestone,” Greenberg had said. “Erasing someone from it is erasing a piece of a person’s history.”
For Maldonado, it held particular significance. After struggling with his sexuality privately only to be molested at church camp, teased by some kids at school and contemplating suicide, he eventually came out to his teammates in the spring — and was embraced and supported by them. But then he found himself being relentlessly taunted, harassed and threatened by members of an opposing team during a tournament — to the point of his team needing police escorts to travel to and from games.
“When Maldonado contacted Outsports to share his story we were a bit skeptical,” noted Zeigler in his April story, in which he recounts the young man and his teammates having their bus chased down and pelted with homophobic slurs. “There had to be some embellishment. In 2015 it seemed at least 20 years past the point when something like this was possible.”
But several teammates and adults, including the assistant coach, corroborated the details, Zeigler says, adding that school administrators claimed the student had fabricated his story. “His school, unfortunately, had nothing to say [in his defense],” he says, “and until [Wednesday] had thrown him under the bus.” That’s when Webb reached out to Maldonado personally to tell him he was proud of him.
“He’s a great kid and a good athlete,” Webb tells Yahoo Parenting, regarding the call. “We don’t tolerate any discrimination or harassment. We stand behind all our kids.”
But Maldonado made it clear in a Facebook post on Wednesday that Webb’s call rang hollow. “[He said] he hoped I knew they were so proud of me,” he wrote. “They took Outsports’ first article about my experience and swept it under the rug, as if the harassment and humiliation never happened! I refuse to let this happen again! …I don’t care if I was in other parts 100 times, my individual picture wasn’t in there! I find it unbelievable that their ‘investigation’ took less than one whole school day and once again they’re just letting it go! I will not stop fighting this. No one deserves this, and I’ll make sure no other LGBT teen in Floyd Co has to face this type of discrimination!”
Though the teen says he’s found support through his teammates, friends and two older sisters — as well as other young gay athletes he’s connected with through Outsports and the recent Nike LGBT Sports Summit — he’s lacked support from the rest of his family. “My parents are not supportive of me being gay,” he says of his religious mom and dad, “but they’re supportive of me.” He hasn’t spoken with his older brother since December, he adds, also because of a rift over his sexuality. But now he’s on his way to the University of Louisville, where he’s interested in studying a range of subjects — law, business and sports administration (he won’t continue with basketball). “My hope is that I’m able to not worry about being judged or worry about the principal or teachers talking about me,” he says.
Zeigler wants other young gay athletes to know that there are other kids like them waiting to connect and that they should “just reach out,” he says. He adds that the way things went with Maldonado and the administration “is not usually how it goes. Usually the teammate is embraced, and usually the adults in the room behave like adults.”