Banning of Evan Young's Coming Out Speech Spurs Investigation at School

A Facebook photo of Evan Young.
A Facebook photo of Evan Young.
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Earlier this week, we reported that Twin Peaks Charter Academy valedictorian Evan Young, who was prevented from speaking at a commencement ceremony in May because he'd planned to come out as gay, had been given the opportunity to deliver his address at an Out Boulder event at which he received an award from Representative Jared Polis.

But if the folks at Longmont-based Twin Peaks thought that was the end of the bad PR stirred by the controversy, they were wrong.

Polis sent a forceful letter to the school demanding an investigation into the censoring of Young — read it below — and the institution has now capitulated.

As we've reported, Young submitted his speech to administrators in advance and agreed to make changes suggested by Principal BJ Buchmann — but he balked at removing any reference to him being gay. Afterward, Buchmann is said to have contacted Young's father, Don Young, outing the student in the process.

After the story went public, Twin Peaks issued a statement with a notably defensive tone; it's shared here as well. The school maintained that "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.'"

A screen capture from Twin Peaks Charter Academy's website.
A screen capture from Twin Peaks Charter Academy's website.

The contention that preventing Young from saying he's gay represented "legitimate pedagogical concerns" is eminently debatable. But the statement also contended that Young "failed to follow the guidelines established by the school" in regard to his speech. His initial draft is said to have been "condescending toward the school and the student’s peers and included, among other things, ridiculing comments about faculty and students," not to mention "references to personal matters of a sexual nature.

"None of these topics are ever appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony," the statement allowed.

In his letter, Polis strongly disagrees. He writes that "the mere mention of the student's sexual orientation is no more consequential in the contest of a speech about 'secrets' than the various other examples that the speech contained. No doubt speakers in prior years have mentioned their heterosexuality in the form of references to their girlfriends or boyfriends or dating, and were not singled out for removal.

"I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Young's speech this past Sunday," the letter continues, "and there is nothing in it that can reasonably be construed to be offensive. In fact, the act of preventing him from giving it merely on the basis of his sexual orientation, mentioned in the speech, is the unfortunate and offensive act that was perpetrated in the name of your school."

Additionally, Polis decries Buchmann's outing of Young as a "serious violation of Evan's privacy" that could have "placed him in a potentially dangerous situation" had his parents not proven to be accepting of his revelation.

Evan Young delivering his speech at an Out Boulder event on Sunday.
Evan Young delivering his speech at an Out Boulder event on Sunday.
7News

The publicity garnered by the letter prompted a statement Twin Peaks shared with the Boulder Daily Camera late yesterday. It reads: "Twin Peaks Charter Academy has a grievance policy that is taken very seriously. Per this policy, an investigation will be launched following the June board meeting and a written response will be provided within thirty days."

The inquiry represents a positive development in the view of One Colorado executive director Dave Montez. In a statement of his own, he writes, "Not only was Evan denied the opportunity to address his class as its valedictorian, he was also denied the opportunity to come out to his family on his own terms by his principal.

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“Outing someone to their family without giving them the chance to initiate that conversation is dangerous and can lead to terrible repercussions for LGBT young people.

“We are glad to see Congressman Polis take the school board to task, and we hope the board will fix its policies to make sure these things don't happen in the future."

Look below to see Polis's letter to Twin Peaks, followed by the school's initial statement about its reasons for preventing Young from speaking.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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