- Views & Opinions
A high school valedictorian received a standing ovation when she came out as gay during her graduation speech in the Colorado mountain town of Carbondale.
In the Boulder County city of Longmont, however, a top student was banned last week from making a similar affirmation at his graduation and instead delivered it to a gay rights group a few days later.
The different outcomes reflect the range of challenges and acceptance that some young people can face when they try to speak out about their sexuality.
Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said many young people continue to be ostracized because of their sexual and gender identities.
But she also says she is hearing more of them speak out and be applauded for their effort.
“There has been a sea change,” Simmons said. “We have been witnessing a lot more conversations about these issues.”
During her weekend speech in Carbondale, Roaring Fork High School graduate Emily Bruell used signs as props and got the standing ovation as soon as she revealed the word “gay.”
“I’m not just gay. I’m not just smart. No one is. No label is big enough to hold an entire person,” Bruell said in her speech, which was first reported by the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.
Principal Drew Adams, who had read the speech in advance, said he had known students and teachers would be welcoming but noted that graduations also draw family and friends from outside the isolated town of 6,000 near Aspen.
“As a school community we have embraced tolerance,” Adams said.
He believes Bruell’s speech, which he called courageous, will help other students feel safe at the school and praised her “insight about how we have to lead our lives.”
He also noted that a Gay Straight Alliance group has been active at Roaring Fork for years, and Bruell had turned to a teacher who co-sponsors the group when she first considered addressing her sexuality in her speech.
Adams added that he had worked in the Boulder area earlier in his career and was surprised to see that a principal there had the opposite reaction to a student who wanted to come out in his valedictory speech.
Senior Evan Young had said he was not notified until just a few minutes before the May 16 ceremony at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont that he wouldn’t be allowed to speak or be recognized as valedictorian because of his speech.
He said he had agreed to make some suggested changes but refused to remove comments about his sexuality. School officials contend he did not submit a revised draft.
Young was able to deliver his speech over the weekend at an awards ceremony held by the gay rights group Out Boulder. The Daily Camera newspaper reported that the crowd, which included U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, cheered during the speech that ended with Young asking people to hug someone different from themselves.
Nationally, research has found gay and bisexual high school students are more likely than their heterosexual classmates to attempt suicide or do risky things like smoke and drink alcohol.
A study published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that gay and bisexual children are more likely to be bullied as they’re growing up, even at an early age.
Bruell told the Post Independent in an interview Monday that she wanted to write a speech about judgment and labels.
“I didn’t think I could do that without being honest about this part of me,” she said. “I felt it was really important to leave the high school not hiding anything.”