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Valedictorian Claims He Couldn't Deliver Graduation Speech Because He's Gay

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4)- A high school senior in Longmont says he couldn't deliver his school's valedictorian speech because he planned to announce that he was gay in his speech. The school says they cancelled his appearance because of something else.

Evan Young graduated from Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont on May 16 but he was not allowed to read his valedictorian speech at the graduation ceremony.

twin peaks charter
(credit: CBS)

He said in a statement, read by his father, Don Young, that his speech would be "promoting tolerance and respect" and that "disclosing my sexual orientation in my speech would be the perfect catalyst for this discussion."

The principal cancelled Young's speech minutes before graduation. The school released a statement which read, in part, "The initial draft of the student's speech... was condescending toward the school and the student's peers and included, among other things, ridiculing comments about faculty and students. The draft speech also included references to personal matters of a sexual nature."

"We initially said to ourselves, 'Well maybe this is not the forum' but when we read the speech and the context of 'I'm gay, I'm different, we're all different, we should all accept each other' that was the context," said Evan's mother Alise Corry.

Evan Young
Evan Young (credit: CBS)

Evan's parents said he submitted a revised speech but the principal says he never received it.

The story has generated a controversy that has reached far beyond Colorado. Out Boulder, a gay advocacy organization, said it has received emails of support for Evan from around the country.

"This is an inspirational story. This is, own who you are, be proud of who you are," said Out Boulder spokeswoman Mardi Moore.

Evan's statement continued, "I bring my story forward so that it may serve as an inspiration not only to other LGBT students but to any student who is in the same way different."

Evan's parents said they found out their son was gay through the school's principal. They also say not only was his speech cancelled, but Evan's academic achievements were not recognized. They say their son was too shy to go on camera on Friday but he plans to deliver his speech at Out Boulder's award ceremony on Sunday and that it will be posted on the organization's website.

Twin Peaks Charter Academy released this statement: On Saturday, May 16, 2015, Twin Peak Charter Academy hosted its second annual high school graduation ceremony. The Salutatorian, Historian and Valedictorian were invited to speak at the graduation. Ultimately, the Valedictorian was not allowed to deliver his speech.

As a public school, Twin Peaks Charter Academy has policies and procedures that must be followed to protect our students and maintain the overall mission of our school – which is to provide students with a rigorous education and the foundations of virtue and character, building cultural literacy through a content-rich curriculum in an encouraging environment.

Students have a broad right to express their points of view in a non-disruptive manner when they are not participating in a school-sponsored activity. However, when a student is participating in a school-sponsored activity, the Supreme Court recognized in its Hazelwood decision that the school has not only the right, but the duty, to ensure that the student abides by reasonable standards. Specifically, the court said that the educators may exercise "editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns."

In the case of the 2015 graduation ceremony, the Valedictorian failed to follow the guidelines established by the school. The initial draft of the student's speech submitted for review was condescending toward the school and the student's peers and included, among other things, ridiculing comments about faculty and students. The draft speech also included references to personal matters of a sexual nature. None of these topics are ever appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony.

In an effort to move forward, comments and suggested changes were provided. The parents were also notified that the speech required revisions and the deadline for those revisions. The student was asked on more than one occasion to provide a revised draft of the speech for review but chose not to do so. The student failed to abide by the pre-screening rules applicable to all students giving speeches at the ceremony. The Valedictorian further failed to follow guidelines of the evening by cutting off the sleeves of his graduation gown. The school provided another gown for use at the event.

At that time, in a conversation with members of board of directors and the student's parents, it was decided to pull his speech from the evening's ceremonies. This was done to protect the solemnity of the evening and to preserve and protect the mission of the school.

The school's attorney, Barry Arrington, said, "First Amendment law in this area reflects common sense. As the Supreme Court has noted, everyone knows that in our society high school graduation is one of life's most significant occasions, and a graduation ceremony is 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."

Twin Peaks Charter School is a multi-year winner of the Colorado Department of Education's John Irwin School of Excellence Award. All students are known, valued, and challenged to achieve personal best.

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