The Controversial Reason a High School Canceled Its Valedictorian’s Speech

Evan Young refused his school’s demand that he not reveal his sexual orientation.
Evan Young. (Photo: Facebook)
May 30, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Colorado senior Evan Young was a model student. He finished his high school career with an impressive 4.5 GPA and a scholarship to Rutgers University, and he was named Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School’s valedictorian. But when school officials read a draft of his graduation speech—a customary honor given to the highest achiever—they opted to silence the student.

The talking point principal BJ Buchmann had a problem with was Young’s revelation that he is gay. Young planned to disclose his sexual orientation publicly for the first time during his speech.

“My main theme is that you’re supposed to be respectful of people, even if you don’t agree with them,” Young told The Denver Post on Thursday. “I figured my gayness would be a very good way to address that.”

Young sent a copy of his speech to the school administrators, who returned it to him with requested changes, most of which Young said he made. But when it came to omitting his sexual orientation, Young drew the line.

“I’d told him I’m not going to remove the part where I say I’m gay, because I am. It’s important to me,” said Young.

Adding insult to injury, the principal also called Young’s parents to let them know about the problem with the speech, and in doing so outed the 18-year-old to his mother and father.

“My parents are very liberal. I think they were totally OK with it,” said Young. “But I was not OK with it.”

The administration’s unsympathetic treatment ultimately left Young speechless at the May 16 graduation. According to Young, he was only informed that his speech was canceled minutes before the ceremony, and he was further dismayed that the school declined to even mention his academic achievements during the commencement event.

The school board issued a statement Thursday, saying that it was well within its rights to censor Young’s speech in order to “to protect the solemnity of the evening and to preserve and protect the mission of the school,” adding that “references to personal matters of a sexual nature…are never appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony.”

The school’s attorney, Barry Arrington, added that “[Graduation] is not a time for a student to use his commencement speech to push his personal agenda on a captive audience.”

The school’s treatment of Young is not an isolated incident. Almost 75 percent of LGBT students report instances of verbal harassment and bullying at school. As many as 56 percent of LGBT students reported discriminatory practices based on their sexual orientation or identity, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network 2014 report.

While his school’s graduation ceremony has come and gone, Young will have a chance to give his speech on his own terms. Out Boulder, an LGBT advocacy group, is providing him with a supportive venue in which to deliver his speech on Sunday—no revisions required.