Somewhere Andy Warhol must be smiling.
West Linn High School senior Brandon Flyte got more than his 15 minutes of fame in the past week after posting a story on his website (www.brandonflyte.com) about school officials forcing him to leave because he screened his movie Brokeback High in class last month.
Flyte's 10-minute movie showed a 20-second shirtless snuggle between himself and the other male lead, that much is true. And it's also true that Flyte, at 17 an aspiring filmmaker, has attracted publicity that any other Peter Jackson wannabe could only dream of.
But what actually happened between Flyte and school officials is murky after a week's harmonic convergence that could be its own creature-feature film titled Gay Rights Meets the Blogosphere.
That movie's subtext: how the Internet exploded what not long ago would have been a low-grade "he said, he said" in Clackamas County. The plot: how the on-line pendulum first swung toward Flyte's choice of a hot-button topic, ripping the school for its supposed homophobia, then turning on Flyte for a hoax. Neither assumption turned out to be true.
The ruckus started when school officials summoned Flyte to a meeting on Feb. 27, three days after the screening, and told him he should transfer to Clackamas Community College. But Assistant Principal Tim Fields says Flyte wasn't expelled and that officials suggested the transfer in Flyte's best interest. Flyte left the meeting, which his mother didn't know about, believing he had "no choice."
Flyte says he was "somewhat angry" when he posted the story about a week after the Feb. 27 meeting, but says he mainly wanted to spotlight what happened. It worked.
Gay-rights websites nationwide ran with the story that Flyte was expelled and blasted the school for homophobia. Flyte says he got thousands of supportive emails. Local TV covered the story, and Flyte, who is heterosexual, also began to get crude anti-gay posts on his website.
Then a March 16 story in The Oregonian said Flyte lied about being expelled. West Linn-Wilsonville School District Superintendent Roger Woehl, who hadn't met Flyte, was quoted calling him "disruptive" and said he hadn't been punished. Negative posts and emails increased, and Flyte was accused of manufacturing the incident to generate publicity.
"I just felt like my son was ambushed," says the teen-ager's mom, Cindy Flyte.
Her son's website specifically states that he was transferred, not expelled, though it does imply that the administrator's decision was due to Brokeback High's subject. Flyte now says he doesn't believe school officials were homophobic.
"I guess it might have been foolish, but I seriously never thought it was going to be this big," Flyte says.
Flyte and his mother finally sat down Monday with Woehl, agreeing that he would return to school Wednesday, March 22.
His guidance counselor, Dick Ponting, calls Flyte a bright and talented kid. And this flap, fueled by the school's initial missteps and the superintendent's heavy-handed spin management, got Flyte plenty of fame—or infamy. His only comment after the past week: "I'm happy to be going back to school."