Ark. high school cancels graduation speech because speaker is gay

Ark. high school cancels graduation speech because speaker is gay

A successful television producer says that an informal invitation to speak at his northern Arkansas high school’s commencement ceremonies this year was rescinded because he is gay.

Bryant Huddleston, who has produced “E! News” and “Access Hollywood” and who is currently working on a new show for Bravo, wrote a letter to Superintendent Mitch Walton criticizing the decision to withdraw its offer to speak at his sister’s graduation from Sloan-Hendrix High School. Huddleston graduated from the school in 1990 and his father heads its five-member school board, The Jonesboro Sun reported.

Bryant Huddleston

“I’m curious – did you think my speech would have focused on recruiting youngsters and passing out “Go Straight to Gay” cards over sharing the tools that I used to achieve success?” he asks Walton.

Walton declined to say why Huddleston won’t be speaking, but he said several board members, whom he declined to identify, were against it.

Walton said Huddleston’s father, board president Steve Huddleston, asked him months ago whether his son could speak at graduation. Steve Huddleston said Walton authorized Bryant Huddleston as the keynote speaker.

Then, in an email to board members in late January, Walton said he planned to ask Col. Stan Witt, the Arkansas State Police director and an Imboden native, to speak at the ceremony.

“I got that email (from Walton) that he said he was going to ask Stan Witt,” Steve Huddleston said. “I called Mitch and reminded him of our conversation, and he said he’d forgotten.”

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After Steve Huddleston told Walton he had agreed to let his son speak, “(Walton) communicated to (the board) without my knowledge, and said that by a consensus of the board they decided they would rather have no speaker this year,” Huddleston said.

Steve Huddleston said he spoke to the other board members, and that two said they wouldn’t oppose his son speaking but that two others “thought there would be backlash if we allowed an openly gay man to speak.” He said he will resign from the board at the end of the school year.

Walton said school administrators usually pick the keynote speaker, although they have no set process. Paul Austin, a graduate of Sloan-Hendrix who is now the executive director of the Arkansas Humanities Council, spoke at the graduation ceremony last year, Walton said.

The school has about 650 students in Imboden, about 150 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Read Bryant Huddleston’s first-person commentary here.

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