DENVER – A high school valedictorian received a standing ovation when she came out as gay during her graduation speech in her Colorado mountain town, in contrast to the treatment received by a Boulder-area top student who was banned from making a similar affirmation.
Roaring Fork High School graduate Emily Bruell used signs as props during the speech and got the 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 weekend speech in Carbondale, the full text of which was posted on the Web site of a local newspaper, The Post Independent.
Principal Drew Adams, who had read the speech about two weeks before it was delivered, told the AP Tuesday that neither he nor Bruell had expected her to be interrupted by the ovation. He said he had known students and teachers would be welcoming, but also that graduations 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 added Bruell's speech, which he called courageous, would help other students feel safe at his school, and praised her "insight about how we have to lead our lives."
Adams added he worked in the Boulder area earlier in his career and was surprised to see that a principal there had had the opposite reaction to a student who wanted to come out in his valedictory speech.
Evan Young had said he was not notified until just a few minutes before the May 16 Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School ceremony in Longmont that he wouldn't be allowed to speak or be recognized as valedictorian. He said he had agreed to make some suggested changes to the speech he planned to deliver, 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 Sunday 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, which ended with Young asking people to hug someone different from themselves.
A Gay Straight Alliance group has been active at Roaring Fork for years, Adams said. Bruell turned to a teacher who co-sponsors the group when she first considered addressing her sexuality in her speech.
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 newspaper 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."
Information from: Post Independent, http://www.postindependent.com/