High school valedictorian in Kentucky prevented from giving graduation speech that touched on personal identity

Christian Bales, a graduating senior and valedictorian at Holy Cross High School in Covington, Kentucky, was told hours before his graduation ceremony that the local Catholic diocese would not permit him to deliver the speech he had prepared for the occasion. Using a megaphone after the formal ceremony, Bales gave his speech outside the school instead.

Key Players

Christian Bales graduated from Holy Cross High School on May 25, 2018. He was valedictorian of his class and slated to give the keynote address during the graduation ceremony. Bales is openly gay and gender-nonconforming, and though neither of those aspects of his identity had been an issue at his Catholic school before the incident, he later questioned in interviews whether that might have influenced the church’s decision to pull his speech.

Katherine Frantz also graduated from Holy Cross in May. During her senior year, she was student body president. She was also supposed to address the audience during the May 25 graduation ceremony, but her speech was pulled by the diocese as well.

Holy Cross High School is a private Catholic secondary school located in Covington, Kentucky, just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. It has about 385 students and falls within the purview of the Catholic Diocese of Covington. The school’s mission statement explains that it is dedicated to diversity and acceptance of all students and their faith-lives.

Further Details

Several days before graduation, Bales’ valedictory address was reviewed — and seemingly approved — by Holy Cross administrators. The speech touched on themes of youth activism, civic engagement, and standing up for one’s beliefs. It specifically mentioned the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which was the site of a deadly shooting in February 2018, and their movement to end gun violence.

The morning of May 25, the principal of Holy Cross and other school officials informed Bales he would not be allowed to give his scheduled speech at the ceremony. The Diocese of Covington said it had reviewed it and found it to be “too angry and confrontational,” according to The New York Times. Frantz, who had also submitted her speech for review several days before graduation, was told hers was “too personal” and would also be disallowed.

The diocese later released a statement explaining that neither speech had been submitted before “the deadline,” though neither Bales nor Frantz was aware of any specific deadline. They were also unaware that review by the diocese was even a possibility, Bales said. The diocesan statement noted that the proposed speeches “were found to contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Bales frequently wore makeup and dresses to school and had never encountered a problem with any Holy Cross officials because of it. However, The Times reported that administrators had enlisted the help of his mother to ensure that he would wear “appropriate male dress,” without makeup, to graduation. Bales had been planning to meet that expectation, and his speech did not contain any references to his sexuality. It is unclear whether the diocese took issue with his sexuality and gender-nonconformity.


Bales and Frantz deliver speeches outside the school after the official ceremony

According to Bales, Holy Cross reprinted the graduation programs after the diocese made its decision, eliminating any mention of his or Frantz’s speeches. However, the valedictorian and student body president decided to deliver their speeches anyway. They gathered outside the school after the ceremony with other students, teachers, and family members and used a megaphone to address their audience. The impromptu gathering proceeded without incident, and neither Bales nor Frantz faced a penalty for delivering the speeches in this manner.

Op-ed published in local newspaper

Frantz published an op-ed in a local publication, The River City News. She wrote about how hard she and Bales had worked for the opportunity to speak at graduation, and how frustrated and upset they both were when they were denied that opportunity. She also included the full text of her speech in her op-ed.