Speech champ allowed to perform controversial speech

GORDON, Neb. - After public outcry, overwhelming public support and backing from the ACLU, Nebraska state speech champion Michael Barth will be allowed to perform his controversial speech on gender identity.

The Gordon-Rushville High School student won the Nebraska state championship, qualifying with other state champions for the opportunity to perform their winning speech in Lincoln on Nebraska Educational Television (NET).

But Nebraska Schools Activities Association (NSAA) officials deemed the speech -- which combines lyrics from Macklemore's "Same Love" -- inappropriate.

They asked Barth to perform a different speech.

NSAA executive director Rhonda Blanford-Green said she initially banned the speech because it could incite controversy.

"The intent of my decision was not to stifle freedom of speech, but rather to avoid any negative connotations for individuals within this statewide production," she said. "The NSAA will continue to advocate for all students and promote equitable opportunities through activity participation."

The NSAA reversed its decision Wednesday, allowing Michael to perform his speech.

"We were encouraged by the amount of support for Michael and freedom of speech," NSAA said in a statement released Wednesday.

"The NSAA ... has made the decision to allow Michael to deliver his poetry interpretation as originally performed at the NSAA Speech Championships."

Barth was driving on his way to Lincoln, and in and out of cell phone service when he found out about the NSAA's decision.

"I had so many emotions going through me the entire day yesterday and it was amazing," Barth told 9NEWS.

"This gigantic group of people jumped on to support this and it was amazing. And being able to put this message out there. I was overjoyed."

Barth said he was prepared to not perform if he could not use his speech.

"I would have refused to perform," he said.

The state champion speeches will be aired on Nebraska Educational Television on April 20.

The NET has said they would not decide on the content the students present, and would support any NSAA decision.


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