Gay Rights Discrimination: Did Arkansas School Deny Speaker Based On Sexuality?

An alleged gay rights violation has caused a stir in the small Arkansas town of Imboden, but one school official is saying “Not so fast.”

According to a report from the Arkansas Times, Bryant Huddleston, an Imboden native and graduate of Sloan-Hendrix High School was “disinvited” because of his sexuality.

Huddleston has achieved success in Hollywood as a producer for shows, such as E! News and Access Hollywood. He has also served as a KAIT news anchor and reporter.

Huddleston claimed that he was invited to speak at this year’s graduation, which would have been special to him not only because the school is his alma mater, but also his little sister Madicyn will be one of the graduates.

Huddleston alleged that his father (School Board president) and Superintendent Mitch Walton worked out an informal agreement several months ago to have Huddleston speak. However, Walton later sent an email, according to Huddleston’s father in comments to The Associated Press, in which the superintendent decided to invite Colonel Stan Witt instead — another Imboden native and Arkansas State Police director.

“I got that email [from Walton] that he said he was going to ask Stan Witt,” said the elder Huddleston. “I called Mitch and reminded him of our conversation, and he said he’d forgotten.”

(Steve Huddleston said he would resign his school board post at the end of the year.)

Walton has a considerably different take than the Huddlestons on whether gay rights discrimination is at work. While he would not respond to HuffPo when approached for comment, he did issue a written explanation this week.

“This year, Mr. Steve Huddleston, a board member, suggested his son as a speaker. Bryant Huddleston graduated from Sloan-Hendrix in 1990 and went on to success in the entertainment industry,” Walton’s statement began. “He was never invited by me to be the graduation speaker. After visiting informally with board members, no agreement was reached as to who should be invited to speak. Therefore, my decision was to do what had been discussed in the past — to discontinue the use of outside speakers and thereby shorten an already lengthy graduation program.”

Walton continued: “Contrary to what has been said, no invitation was extended this year to anyone. As superintendent, I have the authority to decide about who the speaker will be or whether we have a speaker at all. The school board does not vote on speakers for graduation.”

Walton added that this year “and in the future,” speakers will be students only. “Graduation is a celebration of the accomplishments of Sloan- Hendrix students and a time to let those students shine for their families and the community at large.”

The explanation has done little to curb Bryant Huddleston’s anger at the perceived gay rights discrimination. On May 5, he issued this letter to Walton via Fox16.com.

In the letter, Huddleston claimed that Walton “forced the members of the Sloan-Hendrix School Board to vote on my participation,” but in so doing “forced the President of the Board Steve Huddleston (my father), to abstain from voting, thus forcing a tie and then declared there would be ‘no speaker this year,’ ultimately nixing any opportunity to share my pathway to success with the graduates.”

Walton has not responded to that accusation at this time.

Gay rights, and accusations of discrimination, continue to be hot-button issues throughout North America. In February, a New Jersey woman claimed Mars Chocolate fired her for her sexual orientation. And in June 2012, a Salvation Army rep actually seemed to endorse putting LGBT individuals to death.

Do you think gay rights discrimination is to blame for Bryant Huddleston not getting to speak at his sister’s graduation, or is Walton the one telling the truth?

[Image via ShutterStock]