Education

School Cancels Gay Valedictorian’s Speech After He Said He Planned to Come Out

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (D), the first openly gay parent in Congress, is calling for an investigation into Twin Peaks Charter Academy after its principal decided to cancel a gay valedictorian’s speech at graduation.

The valedictorian, Evan Young, said he showed the principal, BJ Buchmann, his speech, and the principal requested he not include any information on his sexuality. Young asserted that it was part of a general point he wanted to make in the speech. The principal then showed the speech to Young’s parents, whom Young had not come out to yet.

The lawyer representing the school is Barry Arrington, the former head of the Rocky Mountain Family Council, a conservative group that “promotes and champion’s marriage and family values,” and the former treasurer of Michele Bachmann’s presidential political action committee, MICHELEPAC.

Michele Bachmann once said of LGBT people, “I think also they want to abolish age of consent laws, which means we will do away with statutory rape laws so that adults would be able to freely prey on little children sexually.”

Arrington’s own views on LGBT issues, not surprisingly, hew to the right. Arrington wrote in a 2014 Uncommon Descent blog post on intelligent design, “A man’s body is designed to be complementary with a woman’s body and vice versa. All of the confusion about whether same-sex relations are licit would be swept away in an instant if everyone acknowledged this obvious truth.”

Polis, Arrington, Don Haddad, superintendent schools for St. Vrain Valley School District and Kathy DeMatteo, president of the charter school’s board of directors on the investigation corresponded over email on the issue of an investigation into the school’s actions.

Polis communicated with Haddad, who has been quoted as saying his school district doesn’t set policy over the charter schools in the Daily Camera, a Boulder, Colorado publication, on Tuesday. Polis said St. Vrain could reconstitute the board, require sensitivity training or hold staff members involved in the incident accountable. He added that Twin Peaks does not have a waiver from district or state anti-discrimination policy, and that those waivers are not available under state law. The charter’s agreement states:

“Every student of this school district shall have educational opportunities through programs offered in the school district regardless of race, color, ancestry, creed, sex sexual orientation, religion, national origin, marital status, disability or need for special education services. The concept of equal educational opportunity shall guide the staff in making decisions related to school facilities, selection of educational materials, curriculum and regulations affecting students.”

Polis also argued that the principal’s decision violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which holds that it is discriminatory to refuse, withhold or deny “equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations” of an educational institution.

When Polis wrote a similar letter to DeMatteo, she responded by saying the school absolutely did not discriminate based on sexual orientation and referenced the U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which ruled that educators can express control over student speech in school sponsored activities “as long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

DeMatteo said that the speech was “condescending toward the school and his peers,” and said held that heterosexual students are not allowed to discuss their sexual orientation in a commencement address. She also said the speech Young gave at a fundraiser for the LGBT group OutBoulder was not the same one he provided to the school. She added that Young’s privacy rights were not violated because parents of a dependent student have the right to access education records.

Although Young’s parents did not reject their son for being gay, it’s not uncommon for LGBT children to experience everything from lack of support to abuse from parents after coming out. Half of LGBT teens receive a negative reaction from parents after coming out and 30 percent are physically abused, according to Psychology Today. In addition, 26 percent of LGBT teens are kicked out of the house. They’re also eight times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens.

According to the Colorado Independent, Arrington criticized the idea of sensitivity training.

Arrington responded to Polis’ request for an investigation on Wednesday, stating the school would continue with its plans to have an independent law firm investigate the school, with the hope of having the investigation end in July. He continued by saying:

“That said, certain facts are already well known and Ms. DeMatteo outlined some of them in her June 2, 2015 letter to you (copy attached). It is doubtless embarrassing to you that those facts undermine your call to close the school and subject its leaders to ‘sensitivity training’ (What’s next, a Maoist-style thought reform camp for everyone who has the temerity to disagree with you?) I understand that your political game is best served by having your inflammatory charges hang out there without any response from the school. But we are interested in getting the truth out, not playing politics, and that will be the goal of the investigation.”