Gay Marriage Uproar: 5th Grader Blocked From Reading LGBT Speech in School

A great disservice was done to students recently when a New York City principal banned a student’s pro “same-gender marriage” speech at a school-wide competition. The story was local news, but its implication is far broader.

Beryl Bailey, principal of Public School 195, told 10-year old Kameron Slade that the class competition speech that he won, which was on tolerance and respect for same-sex marriage, was barred from the school competition because the content of his speech was deemed “inappropriate” for his fellow students. In order to re-qualify, he was told that he would have to sumbit another speech on another subject, or be eliminated from the competition altogether. Wanting to stay in the running, he wrote a speech on animal cruelty. He lost. And so did we. Almost.

The boy’s family got in touch with the local television cable station, NY1 News, which taped Kameron reading his speech. Imagine a small, black, serious-looking boy with glasses with big rims reading his speech. It was straightforward, to the point, reasoned, heartfelt, and restrained. He referred to President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage and he spoke of respecting people for who they are, as well as for their differences. He spoke of having spent an enjoyable day with a child and her lesbian parents who were friends with his mom. He witnessed “love, support and commitment”— ingredients for a successful marriage, he believed, no matter the gender combination.

Although it was too late for Kameron to present his original speech in the contest, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott brokered a compromise. Kameron would give the speech at a specially convened assembly for fifth graders only, and Principal Bailey was to be given the necessary time to forewarn parents of the speech’s content. According to the Chancellor, the parents had the option of permitting their child to attend or opt out of the special assembly with no consequences.

By announcing his compromise after the fact, the Chancellor begged the issue. Kameron, however, is pleased with the outcome because he was able to bring public exposure of a hot-topic issue to a larger, wider audience. The principal  is, as a result of the intervention of Dennis Walcott and the Department of Education, no doubt relieved that she is no longer on the hook. She was neither censured nor suspended. What a shame!

And yet, the chancellor raised an important question that even the courts have been conflicted and unable to be definitive about: “Are public elementary school students too young to have free speech rights?” (see Morgan et al. v Swanson, US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, No. 09-40373, September 29, 2011; and Cuff v. Valley Central School Dist. 2nd Cir. 2012)__F.3d___{2012 WL 954063}, March 22, 2012.)

One group that is not conflicted is the New York Civil Liberties Union, which issued a statement claiming that Kameron’s First Amendement rights had been violated. David Drumm, New York City Council Member, added that the principal‘s action condoned the teaching of hate and that it was discriminatory.

Let’s not lose this opportunity to have open discussions with our parents, children and educators not only about same-sex marriage, but also the most  pressing  issues of the day that can impact upon our lives.

As William Wordsworth wrote, “The child is father to the man.” We thank you Kameron Slade for all that you did on our behalf.