U.S. high school censors valedictorian's message of LGBTQ tolerance

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Evan Young was the valedictorian of this year's graduating class at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School, in Longmont, Colo. On May 16, at his graduation ceremony, Evan planned to give his valedictory address. Earlier in the week, he submitted the text of his speech to the principal, as required. Just before the ceremony, Principal B.J. Buchmann told Evan he was not allowed to give his speech. Evan was shocked. He had been practicing for days. He had planned to come out as gay in the speech for the first time, to his own family, to his classmates and to the whole school community.

But Principal B.J. Buchmann would never give him the chance. He called Evan's father after reading the draft and told him that Evan was gay. Evan told me on the Democracy Now! news hour: "If there's anything that upset me the most about this whole situation, it was probably that. And I guess what it showed is that the principal had very little respect or understanding for someone who is in my position." A statement released by the charter school's board of directors read in part: "The draft speech ... included references to personal matters of a sexual nature. None of these topics are ever appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony."

Evan eventually got to give his speech -- two weeks later. A local LGBT advocacy organization, Out Boulder, had gotten involved and tried -- and failed -- to convince the school to allow Evan to give the speech at another venue. So Out Boulder hosted a garden party in a backyard of a home in Boulder, where 250 people packed in to hear Evan finally give his address. Among those present was Boulder/Longmont's member of Congress, Rep. Jared Polis, who is himself gay, and was the first out gay parent in the U.S. Congress. Evan Young told me the following morning: "It was amazing. I was very nervous, actually ... but when I gave my speech, it seemed like everyone liked the whole thing, and it was just awesome." He received a standing ovation. Polis presented Evan with special congressional recognition for outstanding and invaluable service to the community.

What were those words that the principal deemed necessary to censor, and which so inspired the crowd at the Out Boulder event? His speech showed a mature sense of humor, peppered throughout with jokes, but was a deeper, and deeply personal, call for tolerance and understanding.

"On a more serious note, there is something I would like to reveal to you. You may have already suspected this, but I hope this does not change your opinion of me: I am gay," Evan said in his speech. "I've been attracted to men for as long as I can remember, and I've never had a girlfriend because I prefer members of my own sex."

Evan continued: "And that's my biggest secret of all: I'm gay. I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it's who I am. And whether you've always suspected this, or this is a total shock to you, now you know. When I was writing this speech, I was endlessly debating with myself whether I should reveal this, on account of how divisive an issue this is and how gay people tend to be stereotyped, and I thought that, if I did, I should repeatedly apologize and beg you guys not to think any differently of me. But then I realized: I don't have to. I shouldn't have to. If there's one thing I learned at this school, it's that we can still be friends even if we profoundly disagree with each other."

Congressman Jared Polis has written both the school board and the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD), calling for an investigation into Evan's silencing. Debbie Lammers, secretary of the SVVSD Board of Education, went to hear Evan at the Out Boulder event. She told me: "I am disappointed with what occurred, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet his parents and see Evan deliver his speech. It is unfortunate that this charter school has taken this step. It has put the family in a spotlight that they did not seek."

Twin Peaks Charter Academy is just 75 miles, as the crow flies, from the site of the beating and torture of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was kidnapped in Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 6, 1998. Shepard died of his injuries six days later, in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colo., even closer to Longmont. The murder of Matthew Shepard became a global news story, showing just how cruel and violent homophobia can be. His murder happened when Evan Young was just 2 years old. Evan's message of tolerance is the only antidote to that kind of hatred. His classmates needed to hear it, his family needed to hear it, and now thanks to the outcry over his silencing, millions more have heard it as well.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller.

Photo: Tom Woodward/flickr

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.