National News

School Rejected Its Valedictorian’s Speech, but He Gave It Anyway. With a Bullhorn.

Posted May 28, 2018 5:35 p.m. EDT

This was not the way Christian Bales planned to leave high school.

Bales, an 18-year-old with a passion for conservation science, worked hard at Holy Cross, a Catholic school in Covington, Kentucky, earning the honor of valedictorian. He looked forward to delivering a commencement speech at the graduation on Friday.

Then something happened that left him “kind of shocked,” he said.

The principal and other officials told him on Friday that the Diocese of Covington had deemed his speech too angry and confrontational, Bales said.

“I did not think the speech was polarizing at all,” he said. He was told that it was political and personal and that there was no time to revise it.

Bales is openly gay and describes himself as gender nonconforming. His speech makes no mention of either.

He said he wore high heels and a floral jumpsuit to prom and the school did not protest.

But last Monday, according to Bales’ mother, Gillian Marksberry, the principal asked for her help in making sure her son arrived at the graduation ceremony “in appropriate male dress,” including dress pants and no makeup or hair accessories.

“He also told me that he had reached out to the superintendent of the diocese to ask for guidance because he has never had a student like Christian before and he didn’t know how to deal with it,” Marksberry said.

She added: “Christian and I spoke about appropriate dress and how it is necessary to conform sometimes. Christian understood and respected this request. He was prepared to honor the dress code.”

The principal, Mike Holtz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Katherine Frantz, the student body president, was also scheduled to speak, but her speech was rejected as well. The school reprinted the graduation programs, deleting any mention of their speeches, Bales said.

But that did not stop them.

His father on Friday offered to bring a bullhorn so Bales could deliver his speech after the ceremony. “And I was like, ‘Oh, heck yeah. That would be great,’” Bales said.

Frantz thought so, too.

After they accepted their diplomas and the students filed out of the Connor Convocation Center at Thomas More College where the ceremony was held, they each delivered their speeches: first Frantz, then Bales.

Students, teachers and family members formed a semicircle around them.

“It was very empowering,” he said. “The people who were surrounding us were the ideal audience.”

Tim Fitzgerald, the director of communications for the diocese, did not respond to phone messages or emails on Monday. In a statement provided to the television station WLWT, the diocese said the speeches had not been submitted for review “before the deadline.”

“When the proposed speeches were received they were found to contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church,” it said.

Bales said he was unaware of a formal deadline. He said he submitted his speech on Tuesday and Frantz said she submitted hers on Wednesday. They both said Holy Cross teachers had approved of their remarks.

School officials also told Frantz that her speech was “too personal,” she said.

“Honestly, I seriously have no idea why they rejected my speech,” Frantz, 18, said Monday. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

She sent a copy of her speech to The River City News and wrote an op-ed column about the school’s decision, which was published Sunday, along with her speech.

“To have my faith and my beliefs put into question by the diocese was extremely insulting,” Frantz wrote.

Bales’ speech listed the accomplishments of his fellow students, such as attending a March for Life rally “to protect the lives of the unborn.”

He reminded his classmates that their voices matter. “The young people must be willing to speak candidly about issues, and we mustn’t tremble in the face of the institutions that try to silence us,” the speech said.

Aside from a mention about facing “adversity” and “opposition in a number of scenarios,” there were few references to his personal experiences as a high school student.

Bales said he did not know if the diocese had acted against him because he is gay or gender nonconforming.

“That is not something they would admit to us,” he said. “I don’t want to wish any ill will to the diocese or the school, but I want this to be a learning experience for everybody.”