photo credit David R. Jennings / Denver Post Staff Photographer
Evan Young is a graduating senior at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School, in Longmont, Colorado, and, with a 4.5 GPA and a scholarship to Rutgers University, he was recognized as valedictorian at his school's May 16 graduation. And then he wasn’t because, well, gay; yes, in this day and age … but let’s tell the story:
Evan sat down, wrote a speech, and agreed to show it to the school principal, BJ Buchmann, who suggested several edits, to which Evan agreed. But, when Buchmann told him to take out the part where Evan came out as gay, he balked:
"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."
So Evan left it in, and several days before the graduation, he emailed Buchmann a copy of his speech with all but that one requested edit having been made. And Evan was out … as gay … and as valedictorian.
A statement released by the school's board of directors claims Evan failed to abide by pre-screening rules — and also "failed to follow guidelines of the evening by removing the sleeves of his graduation gown." The statement also said that graduation 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."
Funny, it didn’t sound like Evan was pushing an agenda, because, and let’s get this queer, there is no gay agenda save for equality, and Evan wasn’t talking about that; he was talking about respecting people, something the school administrators never showed him.
And then, to make matters worse, Evan Young says that, prior to the graduation ceremony, Principal Buchmann called Evan's father, Don Young, and outed him to his parents.
"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." — Don Young
Wow; who has the agenda now? See, Evan hadn’t come out to his parents, a choice that was his to make, and his to change when he saw fit, but Principal Buchmann, who didn’t want him coming out at graduation, did the coming out for Evan at home.
"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." — Evan Young
Their son's sexuality was not news to Don Young and his wife, though they’d never heard from anyone, much less Evan, that he was gay, but still, they weren’t exactly thrilled to have the principal share such private news. And though they were somewhat sympathetic to Buchmann's decision concerning the speech, feeling that coming out during his valedictorian speech wasn’t appropriate, Don Young claims that Buchmann only notified Evan a few minutes before the ceremony that he wouldn’t be speaking because he would be coming out in his speech.
"On the Friday, the day before the ceremony, I had written [Buchmann] a handwritten letter so that he couldn't forward it. I 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."
Seriously, in 2015, we are still denying our LGBT youth the right to speak their truth, even at graduation, where most valedictorians discuss their school years, and their school experiences. The school can say whatever they want — and the part where they say Evan couldn’t speak because he removed the sleeves from his graduation gown is all just stuff and nonsense; he wasn’t allowed to speak because he was going to come out and the school felt it wasn’t the appropriate time.
That alone sends a message of shame to young LGBT students that coming out is maybe something they should rethink; maybe stay in the closet; stay silent; live in shame for being who you are.
Now, for some good news: Out Boulder, an LGBT advocacy group, held their own ceremony last week, and invited Evan Young to speak, to come out, to share his story. Evan wore a green cape, for a little flourish, and talked about how he shouldn't have to apologize for who he is and that he expects his classmates to overlook differences as they have done in the past.
And, in the days following his ouster as valedictorian, Evan has received commendations from Colorado state Representative Jonathan Singer, and United States Representative, and openly gay, Jared Polis, who announced that he wants to "make sure this is the last time somebody like Evan will have to go through what he had to go through."
He’s gay; he’s a brilliant student with a bright future, and he wanted to tell his story. In 2015, this kind of silencing of someone because of their sexual orientation is not to be tolerated.
We’ve come too far for this.