A Colorado charter school just did the unthinkable to their class valedictorian: they not only canceled his graduation speech (in which he admitted he was gay), but outed him to his parents.
Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School graduate Evan Young has a 4.5 GPA and is planning on attending Rutgers next year with a scholarship. He was looking forward to addressing his 30-person graduating class on May 16th, until he showed principal B.J. Buchmann the speech he would be making. Buchmann told the 18-year-old to make several edits – including one that would nix Evan’s admission that he was gay. Young refused to cut that crucial part out when he emailed Buchmann the revised speech, and Buchmann punished him by blocking the speech altogether.
“One of my themes is that I was going to tell everyone my secrets. Most of the things were stupid stuff — books I never read that I was supposed to, or homework I didn’t like. But then I gradually worked up to serious secrets. My main theme is that you’re supposed to be respectful of people, even if you don’t agree with them. I figured my gayness would be a very good way to address that.”
Buchmann claimed that Evan’s speech was cancelled “to protect the solemnity of the evening and to preserve and protect the mission of the school.” But he didn’t stop there – the principal phoned Evan’s parents mere days before the graduation and flat-out told them Evan was gay – something he hadn’t even told them yet. Don Young, Evan’s father, said:
“Mr. Buchmann called me and said, ‘I’ve got Evan’s speech here. There’s two things in it that I don’t think are appropriate.’ One was he had mentioned another student’s name. And then there was his coming out that he was gay.”
For Don, this was the first time he and his wife were hearing about their son’s sexual preference. Don said, “He’s Evan, you know? He’s never really expressed interest in either (boys or girls). He’s just a teenager. … But we had no indication beforehand.”
Although they felt Buchmann’s delivery of the information was inappropriate, Evan’s parents tried to understand where Buchmann was coming from in regards to the content in Evan’s speech. Don said, “His mother and I were not sure that his coming out in a valedictorian speech was the appropriate place to say it, with grandchildren and 3-year-olds in the audience, and that’s kind of what we said to BJ.”
Evan was understandably much more upset because Buchmann had no right to out him to his parents.
“My parents are very liberal. I think they were totally OK with it. But I was not OK with it. I think what it mainly showed is that he didn’t have a lot of sympathy for me, or someone in my position. He didn’t understand how personal a thing it was, and that I wasn’t just going to share it with people randomly, for no reason. I thought it was very inconsiderate for him to do something like that, especially without asking me first.”
Still, the Young family moved past Buchmann’s inappropriate phone call and looked forward to the graduation ceremony – only to be notified minutes before the ceremony that Evan’s speech and his recognition as valedictorian would not be included. Evan explained:
“On the Friday, the day before the ceremony, I had written him (Buchmann) a handwritten letter so that he couldn’t forward it. 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. And I said if he has any questions, he can contact me by email over the next 24 hours or so. He didn’t ever email me back, and so I figured he must be OK with my speech.”
Two weeks after the ceremony, Evan’s parents are frustrated and dissatisfied with Buchmann’s actions. Don said, “The kid worked hard for four years. Straight A’s and everything else. He wasn’t even recognized.”
According the school, Evan’s speech was taken out “to protect the solemnity of the evening and to preserve and protect the mission of the school.” The school released a statement that said Evan had not complied with pre-screening rules and added that the valedictorian had “failed to follow guidelines of the evening by removing the sleeves of his graduation gown.” The statement also included a quote from school attorney Barry Arrington that said the ceremony was “a time for family and those closest to the students to celebrate success and express mutual wishes of gratitude and respect. It is not a time for a student to use his commencement speech to push his personal agenda on a captive audience, and school officials are well within their rights to prevent that from happening.”
One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group spread Evan’s unfortunate story on Twitter, calling it “disheartening.” Dave Montez, the group’s executive director, said, “I would say to the high school principal, outing someone to his family without giving them the opportunity to have that conversation, is dangerous and it can lead to terrible repercussions for LGBT kids.”
“It’s wrong, and it’s not fair. The young man has all but a 4.5 GPA; he has told me that since a toddler he has worked for that honor, and they denied it. I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but I’m not surprised because I get to talk to youth on a regular basis who continue to be exposed to bullying and continue to encounter administrators and principals who do not understand much about the LGBT experience.”
Out Boulder board President Ann Noonan has called Buchmann’s admission to Evan’s parents “a total violation of his educational privacy rights.”
Whether a valedictorian’s speech is the right place to announce one’s sexuality or not, it cannot be argued that what Buchmann did was inappropriate and could have had very serious consequences. Not every student has understanding, loving parents like Evan, and Buchmann seriously overstepped his boundaries.
Featured image courtesy of Facebook.