Valedictorian Evan Young, delivering his speech at an Out Boulder event on Sunday after he was not allowed to speak at his own graduation. (Photo: Democracy Now!)
Evan Young — the high school valedictorian who made headlines Friday when his Colorado school blocked him from giving his graduation speech because it included the disclosure that he was gay — wound up giving his address after all. He did so in front of an audience of about 300 on Sunday, not at his school, but at a fundraising event for the LGBT equality organization Out Boulder.
“My cheeks still hurt from smiling so much,” Out Boulder executive director Mardi Moore tells Yahoo Parenting about the joyous, supportive atmosphere surrounding Young’s speech. “He’s an amazing young man. He runs more than 13 miles a day, he’s so polite, so incredibly bright, and a tremendous writer who expresses himself so clearly. He only went public with his story in the hopes that it would make the world a better place.”
Moore explains that Out Boulder got involved in the situation after it was reported that Young, 18, was told he couldn’t deliver his commencement speech for Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont. The valedictorian said he had submitted his speech early for approval, and though he agreed to make some suggested changes, he refused to remove the part about his being gay. School attorney Barry Arrington had said in a public statement that a graduation speech is not the time for a student to “push his personal agenda on a captive audience.”
Then, before the ceremony, principal PJ Buchmann (who could not be reached by Yahoo Parenting) called Young’s father — who hadn’t known his son was gay — and outed him.
“Outing someone is extremely dangerous,” Moore says. “This could’ve gone really badly. Luckily, his parents are fantastic, and completely supportive.” Moore notes that she had reached out to the school in an attempt to change their minds about letting Young speak, and that it took officials two days to respond. Once they did, she said, they refused to budge but offered no reason. “I was surprised when they chose not to do the right thing,” she says.
Young delivered his speech at Out Boulder’s annual fundraising garden party, and Democracy Now! captured it on video for exclusive broadcast. “Evan Young is a graduating senior with a 4.5 grade point average and a scholarship awaiting him at Rutgers University. His story has sparked national outcry from gay rights activists and allies all over the country,” noted host Amy Goodman before cutting away to Young’s speech.
Young, in his funny and at times endearingly awkward address, during which he wears a green cape tied around the neck of his blue oxford, notes that speaking before the crowd is “the greatest moment of my life so far.”
He comes out in the speech by talking about a note he gave to his best friend, asking her to be his girlfriend. When she turns him down, he explains, he wrote back admitting, “I’m gay,” then tells the crowd, “That’s my biggest secret of all.” He adds, “I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it’s who I am. And whether you’ve always suspected this or this is a total shock to you, now you know.” Young notes that he’d been “endlessly debating” with himself about whether or not to disclose his sexuality. But then, he says, “If there’s one thing I learned at this school, it’s that we can still be friends, even if we profoundly disagree with each other.”
Moore tells Yahoo Parenting that though Twin Peaks is a charter school, it does not report to the local St. Vrain Valley School District, and that the situation should be of “no reflection” on the district. On Sunday, she says, supportive teachers, students, and representatives of the district were there to hear Young’s speech, “and they were cheering as loudly as anyone else.”
Finally, Young contributed a commentary to the Out Boulder website, explaining his intent. “The school’s administration maintains that I was prevented from speaking ‘to preserve and protect the mission of the school.’ However, my school’s mission is one of promoting tolerance and respect, and it is these values I sought to promote in my graduation speech,” he writes. “The central message of my speech was that you must learn to respect people even if you disagree with them, a lesson which I learned during my four years as a student at Twin Peaks High School, and I thought briefly disclosing my sexual orientation in my speech would be the perfect catalyst for this discussion.”
He adds, “I love my school, and I want nothing to happen to it save that which will improve it in the long run. Nor am I doing this for publicity, or to seem like a hero. I’m not a hero, and the overwhelming support I’ve received from friends, family, and even people who I’ve never met show that I had nothing to fear to begin with. Rather, I’m bringing my story forward so that it may serve as an inspiration, not only to other LGBT students, but to any student who is in some way different. I want them to know they should not be ashamed of who they are. They can celebrate their uniqueness, no matter what people in authority tell them.”