This Queer High School Graduate From NJ Is The Hero We All Need This Pride Month
Bryce Dershem is my hero this pride month, and he should be yours too.
Dershem is this year's valedictorian at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, NJ, and in his June 17 address to the graduating class school officials appeared to censor him from speaking about coming out, mental illness and an eating disorder.
"After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone, I didn't know who to turn to for support," the brave graduate said said as he opened his speech, before his microphone abruptly cut out.
Video footage of the speech (posted to YouTube) appears to show the school's principal walking behind the podium to take the mic.
"Dr. Tull came up to the stage he grabbed the paper I brought and crumpled it in front of me. He pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else," Dershem tells NBC10.
In the video, you can hear the crowd cheering, "let him finish!" A new microphone was brought to the stage, Dershem then continued his remarks in their entirety... from memory.
The graduate spoke of his personal struggles with mental issues.
"Even though my family, my friends and so many amazing Eastern faculty believed in me, I needed to accept the unapologetic version of myself... for myself. We all do."
He spoke of his struggles with anorexia and suicidal thoughts.
"I am a fighter and today I am a survivor," he said in a message speaking of all of the struggles that his classmates had faced during their high school careers.
School officials tell NBC10 that all speeches must be pre-approved by faculty to ensure that they have an "inclusive message about the future of all students in the graduating class and their guests."
All of the references to his queer identity and mental health struggles were reportedly taken out, and Dershem told NBC10 that he felt censored.
But, Bryce, I am here to tell you that your bravery inspires me.
I graduated more than 10 years ago, but your message spoke to me, and I know it inspires many others.
The experiences of queer youth in high school can be incredible traumatic, but as you said so eloquently, it starts with accepting the unapologetic versions our own selves... for own selves.
I struggled with my identity for years. But today, I can say I am a proud queer man.
I'm now 31 years old, and accepting who I am each and every day can be a struggle for me still sometimes. But I fight each and every day and to love myself.
And I also am filled with so much hope that with young people like Bryce entering the world, that there's a TON of love in this world.
Congratulations & Thank You, Bryce! This is the message I needed this June.