A student from a school in New Jersey in the US has claimed that his school principal had attempted to censor his valedictorian speech, that included details about coming out as queer and his battles with mental health recently. In a video that has been doing the rounds on social media, Bryce Dershem, 18, is seen delivering his speech when a man, reportedly the school’s principal comes up to the podium and is seen taking away with him the piece of paper containing Bryce’s speech along with the microphone which he removes from the stand.
The full video, also posted on Youtube by Bryce’s father Michael Dershem shows the former starting his speech as he describes his experiences as a high-school student and just as he mentions how he “After I came out as queer in my freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to," his microphone is muted and the principal, Robert Tull came up behind him. Speaking to the The Inquirer, Bryce, a graduate from the Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees said Tull took his speech and “crumpled it up into a ball in front of me." He said Mr Tull “pointed to a pre-approved speech they had essentially written for me and said, ‘You read this, or nothing else.'"
Check out Bryce’s full speech here.
Bryce is seen adjusting to the development for a bit as he is handed a new microphone and also the new piece of paper containing the ‘approved’ speech. But then, he goes on to say, “As I was saying….” and goes on with his original speech from memory.
Speaking to CBS News, Bryce told his principal told him that “my graduation speech was not my therapy session." An email was also sent to him by the principal which said that “if he didn’t submit a new speech, he wouldn’t be able to speak at graduation."
Several Twitter users also outraged on the obvious way Bryce seemed to have been dissuaded from making his speech.
So showing your #vikingpride is silencing queer youth who are the change the future needs? Cool, cool. From the bottom of my heart, get bent, Dr. Tull. BRYCE DERSHEM IS A HERO! #BryceDershem— Emily Monahan is trying her best (@dutdutemily) June 29, 2021
Good for Bryce Dershem. In this case, The Principal was wrong.— Debbie Levine (@Debfornow) June 29, 2021
Bryce’s speech also drew the attention of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy who tweeted in support of the student.
To Bryce Dershem – I'm so proud of you for speaking truth to power, and for your resilience and courage.To all of our LGBTQIA+ youth – you belong, you are loved, and we will continue to fight alongside you for equality, inclusion, and respect.https://t.co/0QzGjbIJqj
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) June 26, 2021
Bryce has spent months under medical treatment for anorexia. He reportedly told that the authorities said that “they didn’t want me to say that I was queer, because they said it would exclude people in the audience."
The Eastern Camden County regional school district superintendent Robert S Cloutier reportedly told CBS News that this is the proecudre for all student speakers’ speeches and those agreed upon and approved in advance are kept on the podium.
He also told The Inquirer that the district is “committed to the diversity and inclusion initiatives" of the New Jersey Department of Education.
Bryce, however contradicted the superintendent’s statement saying. He said, “If that were true, would they have tried to censor me and play it off as a mic change?"