Lawyer: Colorado school didn't discriminate by blocking gay speech

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 27, 2015 3:52 PM

(Reuters) - A lawyer hired by a Colorado high school to investigate its decision to ban a valedictorian's commencement speech, in which the student had planned to come out as gay, said miscommunication was to blame for the move, not discrimination.

Evan Young, 18, had wanted to declare in public his sexual orientation during his graduation in May from the Twin Peaks Charter Academy in the city of Longmont.

The incident stirred controversy after Young said officials at the school, 30 miles north of Denver, barred him from speaking and did not acknowledge him as the senior class valedictorian.

Attorney William Bethke, who was hired by the school to investigate its actions, said in a 24-page report dated last Tuesday that then-principal BJ Buchmann was uncomfortable with Young using his speech to come out, particularly to his parents.

Buchmann also said there were several inappropriate jokes in the speech and suggested changes. Young worked on edits through an online text-editing program he mistakenly believed was being monitored by Buchmann, according to a copy of the report published online by the local Boulder Daily Camera newspaper.

Bethke said Young evaded subsequent efforts on the part of the school to discuss changes to the speech face to face.

Both the student and school should take some ownership of the situation, Bethke said.

"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," he said.

The Daily Camera published a letter from the Twin Peaks board to the school community saying it was pleased with the report, adding the speech was "designed to embarrass, mock and ridicule those in the commencement audience."

Young could not be reached for comment, but his father, Don Young, told the Camera that, while the report was "honest and fair," he was frustrated by the board's response.

"The board of directors continues to show their ignorance," Don Young told the paper. "The board has not done anything to show they are going to make changes going forward."

Young ultimately came out as gay at an event in May sponsored by the gay-rights group Out Boulder, said Mardi Moore, the organization's executive director.

In a transcript of the speech Young made at that gathering, he said he loved his school, is not angry or bitter, and that his frustration over the graduation flap had "largely subsided."

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech)