Nat Werth, 18, recently graduated at the top of his class at Sheboygan Lutheran High School in Wisconsin. Becoming valedictorian was an accomplishment Werth set his sights on as early as freshman year, telling NBC's TODAY Show that it was important to set himself apart and leave a mark on his school.
Having felt ostracized and different from the majority of his peers due to his sexuality, Werth saw his graduation speech as an opportunity to unify the student body and deliver what he described as a “really good message about how our differences are our strengths.”
Yet when Werth turned in a draft of his speech to school administrators, they stopped him from speaking at the ceremony. Werth claims they did this because he revealed he is gay in his speech.
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“Once they had read that, once they knew that I was gay," he said, "they all of a sudden said that they didn’t trust me to give a speech.”
In an attempt to bring about change, Werth shared his experience with his local newspaper, The Sheboygan Press, and his story soon went viral.
Catching the attention of PrideFest Milwaukee, the city’s annual pride celebration, Werth was invited to deliver its keynote speech, as well as receive the Valor Award, which is given to an LGBTQ youth who has shown courage in the face of obstacles. Werth took the stage at PrideFest to share his speech for the first time since being denied the chance at graduation.
“I would like to stress that I'm in no way trying to get revenge on my high school. I want to use my voice to create change and to speak up for those who can't do it for themselves," Werth told the crowd.
"No child should have to wait until they're 18 to come out. No child should have to fear being disowned by their caretakers. No child should have to live in a state where conversion therapy is legal. No child should be taught at school that they have to hate themselves in order to be loved," he continued. "My advice to anyone trapped by their circumstance is to know that there is nothing wrong with you.”
When reached for comment, Sheboygan Lutheran High School told NBC's TODAY Show they “do not discuss student/family issues with the media. They are handled confidentially with each family.”
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