High school graduation is a time when all those years of hard work, heartache, and hormone-charged emotional turmoil finally come to a triumphant end. Graduates are on the cusp of a true turning point in their young lives and most have an eye towards a brighter future.
For school superstars Christian and Katherine, the future was as bright as could be and the recent past wasn’t too bad either. Their high school careers had been filled with accomplishments which earned them a place at the podium during graduation. There were some stipulations to that however…
18-year-old Christian was not your average student. Christian was they type of person who didn’t like umbrella terms or binary labels. As far as they were concerned, they were either “gay” or “Queer,” “male” or female.” Christian was Christian, and Christian was extraordinarily bright, outgoing, talented, and as soon as they graduated was going to attend the University of Louisville to study biology and ecology.
Christian’s identity was what many would consider a non-conformist, both in gender and sensibilities. But that was part of what made Christian who he was. He wore makeup and traditionally feminine clothing to school events. He even wore a floral jumpsuit, pink eyeshadow and red lipstick, to prom. Most of his fellow students and teachers were complimentary towards him, but at Holy Cross High School in Kentucky, not everyone was…
When Christian was a sophomore, they would often find themselves in arguments with the high school’s staff over whether or not they could wear things like makeup or bobby pins in their hair while in school. The school’s oppressive dress code explicitly banned male students from doing those things, but Christian did it anyway as much as they could.
Friends at the Podium
In the end though, Christian’s “unwelcome” sense of style did not stop them from doing well in school. Exceedingly well in fact. Christian was chosen to be his class’ valedictorian and was going to be invited to speak at his graduation. As if that weren’t enough good news, his best friend Katherine Frantz, student council president, would be giving a speech up there too…
Ideas for the Speech
Christian’s speech was going to be, as they say, “epic.” Their plan was to talk about the power of young people in the world today by referencing a mantra often used by David Hogg and other student leaders from Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which stated emphatically that “the young people will win.” It would inspire his classmates and hopefully the adults in the audience as well.
Hand it In
As per tradition, and to ensure that they didn’t say anything too offensive on the podium, both Christian and Katherine were supposed to have their speeches approved by one of the school’s religion teachers and the principal. Christian Bates handed the speech to the teacher one day and the next day, he told him it was approved and the whole faculty was excited to hear them read it aloud. There was just one problem…
Despite their teachers’ assurances that the speeches passed with flying colors, Christian and Katherine were soon informed by the Diocese of Covington that they were “randomly selected” to have their speeches approved by the diocese themselves. This was not a normal occurrence, and Christian had a feeling they’d selected them on purpose.
The following Friday morning, Holy Cross’s Principal Mike Holtz had the unwelcome duty of calling up Christian Bales’ and Katherine Frantz’s families to tell them that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, which incidentally oversees the high school itself, had deemed their speeches inappropriate. They would not be allowed to read them at the graduation ceremony that evening…
In an effort to soften the blow so to speak, Tim Fitzgerald, who was a spokesperson for the Diocese of Covington, came out and explained the decision to disallow the speeches. He said that the Catholic Church found the speeches to “contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.” He also added that they had been submitted for review after the deadline. They had not.
The principal went into even more detail in Christian’s case. He told their mother that the Catholic Church considered the speech to be, “too personal, angry, confrontational, and political” to be read at a school event. Frankly though, the long and short of it was that the valedictorian had been banned from giving their graduation speech simply because of their gender nonconformance…
On the Radar
Christian knew that they’d been on the radar for a while. Christian, who is not Catholic, is the type of person who openly pushed for social reform and was exceptionally vocal about their beliefs. Regardless of their religion, however, Christian has always been as respectful of their beliefs as possible without compromising their own integrity.
Not What They Think
Christian’s speech, which was eventually published on Facebook, was wholly non-offensive. It didn’t mention Bales’ gender identity or sexual orientation, it didn’t call for any specific change to any specific political policies, and while it mentions Christian’s inspiration from the leaders of March for Our Lives, his address does not call for new gun control laws. So why ban it in the first place?
The Threat of Him
Christian Bales recalled all the minor power struggles between themself and the school administration throughout their tenure at the school. Indeed, Christian believed it was their visibility, their very existence in the school that threatened their way of looking at the world. That the Catholic sensibilities of those in charge were offended by the way Christian comported themself.
Needless to say, both Katherine and Christian were justifiably frustrated by the diocese’ decision. They wanted themselves to be heard. So they contrived a plan that would enable them to speak their mind despite the school’s decision. They decided to read their speeches after the ceremony and outside of the venue, via megaphone. That way everyone would be able to hear what they had to say…
They borrowed the microphone from a father who ran the LGBT Facebook group near them and called the local media to come view them giving their speeches. Surrounded by friends, students, and families, Christian and Katherine gave their speeches. “Throughout the past four years at Holy Cross,” Christian began. “I’ve learned how to utilize my voice to advocate for my beliefs as an ethical individual…”
Facing Things Head-On
Christian continued by saying, “I’ve faced opposition in a number of scenarios, but my voice continued to grow in intensity as I faced more adversity. Rather than allowing opposition to silence us, we must utilize it as empowerment. As long as we nurture our minds as youth, we’ll be able to be equally impactful as we encounter the world.” When it was all said and done, the speech went viral…
Joined in Protest
Katherine Frantz spoke right alongside her best friend by tackling the issue of the speech ban itself. “Christian and I have worked for four years to earn the right to speak as valedictorian and student council president at graduation. I was shocked and upset when that honor was taken away from us on the morning of graduation…”
Trust and Appreciation
Overall, Katherine’s speech was less political than Christian’s. It was more focused on applauding graduating individuals. “My speech is about trust in God, hope, and confidence in the future. Those are the lessons that the staff and faculty of Holy Cross gifted me with.” She did however add that she was upset that neither she nor Christian were given a chance to revise their speeches…
After it was all said and done, Christian looked back to the way they’d been treated by the school and rose above their expectations. The school and the church believed Christian to be a disruptive, values-threatening influence, but all they wanted to do was to speak out to their fellow graduates about important political issues in their lives.
No Idea What They’d Unleashed
The high school senior also noted that since the graduation, more people than Christian ever imagined had now heard their message about progressive thinking for their generation. In an effort to stop Christian and Katherine from making their speeches, they ensured that it reached millions.