Blocking Gay Valedictorian's Speech OK, Report Commissioned by School Finds

A few months back, we told you about the decision by the administration of Twin Peaks Charter Academy to block valedictorian Evan Young from delivering a speech during graduation.

The reason: Young planned to come out as gay during the address.

From the beginning, the school denied wrongdoing, even though principal BJ Buchmann (who subsequently resigned amid the controversy) was accused of prematurely outing Young to his parents.

However, Twin Peaks agreed to launch an investigation following a letter from Representative Jared Polis castigating the school for its actions.

Now, the report commissioned by the school is out — and the document, originally obtained by the Boulder Daily Camera and on view below, maintains that Twin Peaks didn't discriminate against Young.

As we've reported, Young noted that he submitted his speech in advance to Principal Buchmann and even agreed to some edits — although he balked at the suggestion that he remove any reference to him being gay.

In addition, he maintained that Buchmann outed him to his parents in advance of the graduation ceremony via outreach to his dad, Don Young, who'd previously served on Twin Peaks' board of directors.

Fortunately for Evan, his parents reacted to the revelation with what appears to have been unconditional support.

Twin Peaks proved less accommodating.

In its statement, also shared here, the school allowed 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.'"

Of course, it's eminently debatable whether preventing Young from saying he's gay had anything to do with "legitimate pedagogical concerns." But the statement also argued 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 contended.

Fortunately, Young got the opportunity to deliver his commencement address at an Out Boulder event, and he received support from Polis, whose letter, another of the documents collected here, dismissed suggestions of condescension and demanded an investigation into the censoring of Young.

The school capitulated, hiring William Bethke — a lawyer not affiliated with Twin Peaks — to conduct an investigation.

Bethke's report tackles two main questions: did Buchmann improperly "out" Young to his parents and was the student discriminated against based on his sexual orientation. In both cases, Bethke concluded that the school's actions weren't improper.

Here's an excerpt from the section about outing:
First, it is clear the valedictorian was in the process of "coming out." The investigator certainly understands that giving a draft speech to the Principal was not intended as a license to broadcast the student's sexuality to the world. And that is not what happened. Instead, the Principal approached the two parents to inform them of their son's intended public announcement. This was a limited disclosure with an appropriate purpose: preparing the parents for their son's possible public disclosure at a graduation they would attend and enabling them to discuss the issue with him....

Second, while the valedictorian was eighteen years old, he was still a high school student. The graduation ceremony itself is, for at least some purposes, the mark of transition to adult status in relation to one's parents. Finally, while the Principal certainly could have done more to be sure the Student did or did not object to discussions with his parents,t his is not a case in which an official simply discloses information (or threatens disclosure) over clear objection or without warning. The Principal attempted to obtain the Student's agreement that discussion with his parents was warranted and based not on clear consent, but on lack of a clear objection, went ahead....

The passages about potential discrimination are more complex, with discussions including legal precedent regarding First Amendment rights and graduation speeches, as well as the most recent Supreme Court decisions in regard to gay rights. But Bethke ultimately feels that claims of discrimination aren't supported by either federal or state statute.

His conclusion reads:
Our society is changing with remarkable speed on the subject of sexual orientation. While this investigation was underway, same-sex marriage...became the law of the land. As is usually the case in times of rapid social change, many people are uncomfortable with this change. Some are opposed. Individuals who act on that opposition by using official power to discriminate against LGBT individuals will be called to legal account in many cases. But there will also be instances of confusion, unease, ambiguity or misunderstanding. When these occur, dialogue among people of good will can moderate the kind of public controversy that ensued in this case. That such conversation or dialogue broke down here is obvious to all. The investigator emphasizes, however, that both the student and School should take some ownership for the initial breakdown. The investigator does not find either the Student or Principal acted out of any malice or ill-will. Yet the Student repeatedly evaded conversations that might have clarified the situation or changed the course of events. And the Principal obviously lost — and regrets having lost — the trust that might have made the Student more willing to engage. The resulting confusion was genuine and, with the benefit of hindsight, understandable. It is not, however, well understood or credibly explained as acts of discrimination.

The investigator concludes the events through the graduation itself did not entail any violation of applicable law by the School.
Don Young, Evan's dad, expressed disappointment in the findings to the Camera. As for Polis, his spokesperson called the report objective, but noted that the Congressman would be monitoring the school's progress at providing a more welcoming environment for LGBT students.

Below, see a previous 7News report about the controversy, a Daily Camera video featuring Young's parents, and three documents: the new report, Twin Peaks' initial statement and Polis's letter.

Twin Peaks Charter Academy Report

Evan Young: Twin Peaks Charter Academy Statement

Evan Young: Jared Polis Letter to Twin Peaks

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts