“I did feel censored”, Says South Jersey Valedictorian Cut Off Making LGBTQ+ Graduation Speech
The valedictorian of a graduating high school class in South Jersey says he was censored by his school principal for including LGBTQ+ community statements in his speech.
Voorhees' Eastern High School's Bryce Dershem was addressing the audience at graduation on June 17 when his microphone went silent, NBC Philadelphia reports, allegedly cut off by school principal Dr. Robert M. Tull Jr.
Just before the technical difficulties Dershem had stated, "After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn't know who to turn to", and talked candidly about his sexuality and struggles with mental health. He wanted to send a message to anyone in the audience who might be going through something similar that they are not alone.
As Bryce continued, Principal Tull was reportedly seen crouching near electrical wires behind the podium when, seconds later, the mic sound got cut off, according to People.com.
About a minute into the video below, around the 1:10 mark, you can see Principal Tull approaching the podium.
Dershem alleges that not only was Tull responsible for trying to 'censor' his graduation speech, but that Tull tried to make Bryce read something more generic. "He pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else."
But Bryce pressed on, picking up his own speech where he left off, which reportedly sent the audience into applause.
When asked how the whole incident made him feel, Dershem told NBC Philadelphia, "I did feel censored. I felt as though they were trying to regulate the message I was going to say and take away the parts of my identity that I'm really proud of."
Eastern Camden County Regional School District Superintendent Robert Cloutier completely denied Bryce Dershem's claims, telling NBC News, "No student was asked to remove their personal identity from any speech before or during graduation."
Way to go, Bryce, for attempting to convey the importance of inclusivity and LGBTQ+ awareness, especially since June is Pride Month.
SOURCES: Michael Dershem/YouTube; People.com; NBC Philadelphia; NBC News
More from SoJO 104.9