The moment Patrick Baughman had been waiting for all year was here.
He knew he would be the valedictorian for Sioux City’s West High School Class of 2023. He knew he would give a speech. He also knew he wanted to say something important.
When that moment arrived on May 27, Patrick was ready.
“I would like to throw the first brick into our future, break the glass ceiling and stand up for the rights of others,” Patrick said at the close of his speech. “I’ve been meaning to do this all year.”
He held up a book, “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, and continued: “Support trans rights and read banned books. Don’t let them take away our love. Don’t let them ban the books of the people we love, and don’t stop fighting. We are the class of 2023 and no matter what they say, what they do, they cannot stop us. For they can ban this book but they cannot take it away from us.”
Patrick Baughman, valedictorian of Sioux City West High School’s class of 2023, ends his speech with a declaration for trans rights and against "banned books" during graduation. pic.twitter.com/B126qwxt4A
— Sioux City Journal (@scj) May 27, 2023
Patrick left the stage to wild applause.
“I was really nervous in that moment,” Patrick told Starting Line. “Just seeing the crowd of people in front of me…it was just like, ‘This is right, this feels right.’ And so I just kind of went off.”
Patrick had hidden a copy of the book in a binder he took the podium with him because he didn’t want anyone to see it before he had the chance to speak. He hadn’t written down the last part of the speech, either, because he didn’t want anyone to stop him.
“Even though I didn’t have to get mine approved, I was worried that they would cut me off at some point if I said something they didn’t approve of,” he said.
Months earlier, Chaya Raichik, the far-right, anti-LGBTQ owner of the LibsOfTikTok Twitter account, targeted West High School because “This Book is Gay,” a young-adult, non-fiction book about gender and sexuality, was in the library.
This follows a nationwide far-right and Republican effort to ban books about LGBTQ characters or topics and/or books about characters of color or race.
The book was eventually removed by the Sioux City Community School District. Patrick said most of the people in the school, students and teachers alike, didn’t know a book had been targeted or removed. He wanted to correct that.
“This happened and you can’t sweep it under the rug,” he said. “And [the speech] happened at the perfect time too because of what Gov. Reynolds did with that law the day before.”
On May 26, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that outlaws books with any depictions of sex—excluding religious books —from school libraries. It also forces schools to out students to their parents and prohibits teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation until 7th grade or higher. This is also following the lead of national trends in states like Florida.
“It felt really bad that they [LibsofTikTok] started with West because West has a very active GSA (gay/straight alliance) and a lot of the kids in the clubs and who are the most active are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Patrick said.
He said learning about the book being removed made him so angry he started plotting how he could fight back because he knew he couldn’t complain to the school.
“It was very touchy and nothing would come of it,” he said. “So I knew the best thing to do actually was to wait. And that’s when I was like, I’m going to have my moment. I’m going to have the entire crowd just on me. I might as well just let them have it and spread the word.”
Patrick was also inspired by students like Clementine Springsteen, who took her moment with Reynolds to remind people, “Trans rights are human rights.” And by his own friend, who had come out to him as trans in December and came out to the student council at a senior banquet.
“They ended up coming out to everybody. And I was like, okay, now I need to do something to support them,” Patrick said. “So I wrote my speech, and I wrote it that night too, because I was so inspired.”
He hasn’t faced any backlash from school or other students. In fact, more people have been supportive than he’d expected, even though the students at West have always been fairly accepting and he’s never been afraid of being an openly gay student.
It’s made him want to be active when he’s in college.
“This entire thing is kind of taking me by storm because I’ve always been not interested in politics, but I always try to keep myself up to date,” he said. “It’s definitely one of those things where it’s like holy crap, this is a big possibility of something I can help with.”
Patrick has always been involved with activities like student council in high school. He said he’d like to transfer that into doing advocacy work when he’s at Iowa State University in Ames. Especially since he’ll be so much closer to Des Moines and the Capitol.
As for now, Patrick said he and the rest of the LGBTQ community aren’t stopping.
“[At] the end of the day, like the main argument is love is love,” Patrick said. “And just because you want us to back down, we’re not going to.”
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