High School Cancels Valedictorian’s Speech Because He’s Gay

Nat Werth had accomplished something truly impressive. After four grinding years in high school, he emerged as first in his class at Sheboygan Lutheran High School in Wisconsin. He was driven to academic success, in part, to stay focused on a major goal as he processed his sexuality.

“Since freshman year, I had made it my goal to be valedictorian,” Werth told BuzzFeed News. “Because being the gay student, I knew that if I didnít distinguish myself I would just be a nobody and nobody would care about me.”

In March, Werth learned he had accomplished his goal. He would walk out the doors of his high school as valedictorian. And he was to give the traditional valedictorian speech at the graduation ceremony.

“I was really excited,” he said. “My dreams were coming true.”

As Werth thought about what he wanted to say, he cobbled together a rough draft in which he came out as gay and discussed how that impacted his religious faith. With Sheboygan Lutheran being an extremely religious school, he knew it was unlikely everything he submitted would make the final cut.

“I knew that they wouldnít let me say that at graduation, but I put it in the rough draft because for me it was part of the writing process and how I was reflecting on my high school career,” he told BuzzFeed News.

You can read an excerpt from the first draft below to get a sense of what Werth was thinking about saying:

“On my own journey to self-acceptance, I have trekked through the depths of depression, found that Godís love is endless, and embraced the fact that Iím gay. Absolutely no one should have to go through what I have gone through simply to come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin. God created everyone just the way they are and never intended for the church to disenfranchise an entire group of people.”

Werth concluded his draft by pointing out that “the Bible mentions ‘love’ over 500 times.”

“I sincerely believe that the next generation of Christians will eradicate homophobia in the church and proclaim Godís love to the LGBT community,” he wrote.

But once the school learned he was gay, there was no going back. Administrators no longer trusted him to give the graduation speech.

“I told them Iíd be willing to take it out, but they didnít trust me, because thatís when they found out I was gay,” he told BuzzFeed News. “And because they knew that I was gay, they chose not to let me give the speech.”

The honor was instead given to the salutatorian, the second highest ranked student in the class.

“It was kind of difficult to watch [the salutatorian's] speech without giving my own,” Werth told the Sheboygan Press.

This wasn’t the only issue Werth had with the school administration. He also had been barred from joining the school’s dance team, even though the coach had approved it.

The school has been tight-lipped about its response to Werth. According to the Sheboygan Press, Executive Director Paul Gnan said the school’s policies are based on “Biblical principles” but otherwise declined to comment.

This whole situation is just so disheartening. A student who has worked his butt off to become valedictorian ó and come to terms with himself as a gay person ó was unilaterally rejected by his school. But Werth prefers to look on the bright side and see the impact of his courage.

“A lot of people have said they feel bad for me, but Iíd rather have people feel happy that someone is finally … speaking up for whatís right and trying to change Lutheran High School for the better,” he told BuzzFeed News.

TAKE ACTION

Will you stand up with Nat Werth against this backward school administration? Sign our petition demanding the school apologize to Werth and change its policy, so nobody ever has to go through this again.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can†create a Care2 petition, and use this†handy guide†to get started. You’ll find Care2′s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

Photo credit: beer5020/Getty Images

65 comments

Barbara S
Barbara S18 hours ago

Signed

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John N
John N2 days ago

Thank you for posting

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John N
John N4 days ago

signed

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Gabriel C
Gabriel C9 days ago

Glad to sign this

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Joan E
Joan E16 days ago

As Presidential Candidate Mayor Pete says, if you have a problem about my being gay, your problem is not with me, it is with my creator.

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Joan E
Joan E16 days ago

That is so wrong.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie16 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie16 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie16 days ago

thank you so very much.

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Freya H
Freya H16 days ago

If I knew that the valedictorian at my high school had been barred because of his/her sexual orientation, I would have refused to attend graduation. And if I had been the salutatorian, I would have refused to give a speech - or condemned my school's administrators for being such bigots.

Good point, Lindsay K - we must never tar all Christians with the same brush. I must plead guilty to that charge, and I learned from my foolish mistake. One of my friends is a Christian minister who is openly lesbian.

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