High school graduation is a time to celebrate, to look back on past accomplishments and lessons, and to look forward to a future full of growth and freedom. It’s a time to let go. But for Holy Cross High School valedictorian Christian Bales, his freedom was taken away when the school in Crestview Hills, Kentucky banned his graduation speech on the day of the ceremony. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, which oversees the high school, decided Bales’ speech was “too personal, angry, confrontational, and political.”
Christian was not allowed to speak at his own graduation after originally being told his speech was fine by a school teacher. So Bales’ father borrowed a megaphone from a local LGBTQ group, and Bales delivered his speech after the ceremony on the lawn.
The megaphone came from a LGTBQ group because Christian is openly gay, and his supportive parents wanted him to be heard. Christian is also gender nonconforming and describes himself as gay or queer. He wears makeup and bobby pins in his hair. He wore a black, floral printed jumpsuit to prom and he often accessorizes with “female” jewelry.
According to Bales, the administration at Holy Cross has been mostly supportive of him. But when opportunities came up that allowed the school to be scrutinized by the overseeing diocese, the high school administration always tried to hide or censor Bales. They used photoshop to remove pearls he was wearing for a yearbook photo, and he was told the jumpsuit he wore for senior photos was “inappropriate.” He had to retake his photos wearing a collared shirt and tie.
In anticipation of the biggest spotlight of the year, the school made sure to tell Bales’ parents that he was expected to stick to the “male” dress code for graduation. Bales complied but still wore mascara and painted on his eyebrows. Fuck yeah, he did.
I understand that the school wanted to look good in front of the diocese and the bishop attending the ceremony. But it looks pretty shitty to censor a student’s true self. Especially when the student is the FUCKING VALEDICTORIAN. What the school really showed off are incredibly homophobic and transphobic attempts to silence a kid, a really smart kid, who deserves respect and praise. The school is blatantly telling this kid, and all others like him, that his voice should not be heard because of what he wears and who he loves.
Holy Cross sticks to their story that Bales’ speech would have caused turmoil because of his reference to Parkland High School’s David Hogg’s mantra: “the young people will win.” But his speech was not about gun control; it was about progress.
Bales: “The most important thing to remember is that youth is not proportional to age, nor is it physical, rather it’s a mindset that we must carry with us into the world. The only way we can stop being impactful is if we let go of our youth and stop advocating for our core values. In my experience at Holy Cross I’ve learned that the best way to attain change is to be a visible example in our world, and we must plan to continue to utilize our voices in order to better the lives of all those we encounter.”
Letting go of old crusty white ways of the Catholic Church would have been such a nice way to celebrate this graduating class’ right to a better future. Letting Christian Bales speak would have shown progress. It would have celebrated and supported LGBTQ and gender fluid or nonconforming kids. Instead, Holy Cross hid behind its multicolored robes to try to hide the colors of Bales’ rainbow.
Bales’ speech ended with these words: “Class of 2018, we are dynamic. We are intelligent. We have a voice, and we’re capable of using it in all communities…We must take what we’ve learned in this community and apply it to the world we are about to encounter. We are the young people, and we will continue to win.”
Yes. The young people will win.
Bales will be attending the University of Louisville to study biology and ecology. I wish him freedom.