Arkansas School District Tells Gay Alumnus He Can’t Speak at Graduation

Bryant Huddleston, a single dad and TV Writer and producer in Los Angeles, an alumnus of Sloan-Hendrix High School in Arkansas, says he was disinvited to speak at the school's graduation after school members and Superintendent Mitch Walton discovered he was gay.

HuddlestonSaid Huddleston in a letter:

I am writing to express my disappointment in the Sloan-Hendrix Superitendent’s recent decision to recant his invitation for me to be the keynote speaker at my little sister, Madicyn’s, graduation from Sloan-Hendrix High School this year, based solely on the fact that I am gay.

What baffles me is that he chose to disregard the fact that I grew up in Imboden, and my career accomplishments–KAIT news anchor and reporter, successful television producer in Hollywood, producing shows such as E! News, Access Hollywood, etc., –were dismissed and instead you chose to make me a hot bed controversial issue.

His decision forced the members of the Sloan-Hendrix School Board to vote on my participation but what was equally unfair is that he 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.  Was this in the students’ best interest or is this a decision based on religious beliefs?

Huddleston, who held leadership positions at the school when he attended, ripped the school's decision:

I understand that Mr. Clark and Mr. Murphy both stated there would be "concern from the community" if I were allowed to speak. I'm curious–did you think my speech would have focused on recruiting youngsters and passing out "Go Straight to Gay" cards over sharing the tools that I used to achieve success? You might be surprised to know that "recruitment" does not and never will work. And just for the record, just so we're clear, my words were not going to address a "certain agenda," but I was hoping to empower your students to continue their education. My speech would have also touched on the importance of women, like my sister, who will go out into the world and know that they can now pull their chairs right up to the table of equality. To encourage them that they can no longer sit in the back and let men make the important decisions for them. And for that matter, letting them know that someday a woman or two or three can become a member of the Sloan-Hendrix School Board. After all, there's an opening, since my father will resign from the Board later this month.

I could just sit back and let this slide, but if I did, the discrimination that has taken place here would go unnoticed like it has so many times in history.

Read his full letter HERE.

WaltonWalton issued a statement in response, saying that Huddleston was never invited:

Sloan-Hendrix has had individuals to speak at graduation in the past. 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.

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. 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.

Sloan-Hendrix has exceptional graduates. Graduation this year and in the future will feature only student speakers. 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. We welcome the presence of everyone in the community to share in this event.

Mitch Walton
Superintendent Sloan-Hendrix School District


  1. Terry says

    No comment on the “gay” aspect of this controversy from Walton? Hmm…SURELY it wasn’t an issue, right??? YEAH RIGHT. He’s a bigot.

  2. MIke says

    Even if he was speaking I would have heard “producer of E! News and Access Hollywood” and decided it would have been a perfect time for a long bathroom break had I been attending. You know how these people are when they return home. (“Yes! Yes! I KNOW Gwenyth!”)

  3. David says

    Remember the Pleasant Plains school board member Clint McCance and his Facebook rantings from a couple years ago? This place is only about an hour away. Progress moves slow in those hills.

  4. Fenrox says

    I hate these stories, so this guy is a bigot because of what some other guy says? it’s just hand wringing.

  5. Pete N SFO says

    Sounds like he would have been a great speaker; a missed opportunity.

    So the Superintendent would have us believe this close to Graduation, that it was all just a mix-up?

    Doubtful. Very, very… doubtful.

  6. e.c. says

    So Mitch, I’m curious about something. If you never really invited him then why did you need to hold a rigged vote so you could rescind the invitation you say you never made in the first place (and then claim you never voted either). The whole “community concerns” BS is bad enough to hide behind but I guess you should get points for creativity with your attempt to dodge the bigot label by claiming no invite existed. Be curious to see if there is a studen backlash.

  7. HadenoughBS says

    The Arkansas hills are alive with the sound of bigotry. My future educational suggestion to graduating senior Madicyn Huddleston and her fellow students: move outta Arkansas to a more-enlightened community and GO FOR IT! Don’t let your hometown bigots hold you back.

  8. Michael says

    Once more ignorance trumps good sense. And we wonder why learning is impaired in this day and age. Mr. Walton has displayed the breath and depth of his bigotry and lack of intelligence. Maybe he is the one to be removed because he is an impediment to learning.

  9. Dastius Krazitauc says

    Why do they even bother considering having a speaker, if, as the superintendent says, they don’t really value it, that it only makes the ceremony longer. If this superintendent is not a bigot, he sure is lazy and is selling those kids short.

  10. Matt26 says

    @Dastius, I agree, but I also think he is a bigot and has serious problems with himself.

  11. Adam says

    Mr. Walton is a Church of Christ elder, plus he graduated from a private Church of Christ university. But I’m not suggesting his religious beliefs had anything to do with this ..

  12. anon says

    It would be nice if a couple of other parties in involved would vouch for anything either said. The superintendent could not have forced the father to abstain–that makes no sense. There would be no reason to abstain. There’s no conflict of interest unless the speaker gets paid more than certain nominal amount. Also, I doubt the board would get involved unless there was money involved.

  13. billy wingartenson says

    Same ex lax chrisitan white old men who justified slavery as per the bible.

    To bad we cant do what Iceland did to an evangelical who said gays deserve death

    they pulled his citizneship and gave him a one way ticket to moscow with continuing service to the gulag

  14. BeachBum says

    I wonder if they would have a speaker from outside, IF Bill Clinton (former Governor of Arkansas) Called and offered to give a commencement address! OH in case someone missed it he was also president of the US :) What a great put down to the superintendent that would be! Bet he wouldn’t refuse :)

  15. Marcus says

    Why we don’t just set these states on fire and sow the earth with salt is beyond me.