MARION COUNTY, Ohio — LGBTQ+ students are demanding an apology from their high school after the 2022 commencement speaker spoke about how the audience should only be in heterosexual relationships.
River Valley High School has around 510 students, according to 2021 data from the Ohio Department of Education. On Friday, about 105 of them graduated at the Marion Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum.
Cassidy Osipow was one of them.
"I didn't really have, like, a lot of friends," Osipow said.
She didn’t fit in with her classmates, she added. She doesn’t like to fish, she didn’t grow up on a farm and she would never hunt.
"I couldn't really be myself around people at my school because I felt like they were going to not accept me for who I was," she added, playing with her orange, white and pink bracelet.
The school is located in Caledonia, Ohio. It's a rural village inside Marion County.
"I had a kind of a small circle because I always felt like a lot of people that I went to school with, they weren't really like me," she added. like, "I guess they're more 'country.'"
She had been looking forward to graduating and leaving the school where she never felt she belonged. Graduation day, unfortunately, was no reprieve for her.
"I wasn't expecting that to be something that I would hear on my graduation," she said. "It was supposed to be the day that I was finally free from all the stuff that I'd experienced in high school."
Jim McGuire was announced as the "distinguished alumni speaker" who says he "loves to serve God and this country."
"I was prepared for a inspirational speech for graduation," Tony Fisher, Osipow's stepdad said. "It kinda took an early biblical view and I find that was a little off putting for the audience."
Fisher, was a bit confused and so was Osipow — but then they heard his next statement.
"Choose a spouse, I suggest," McGuire said. "I also strongly suggest to make sure to choose biblical principles, you know, a male with a female and female with a male."
News 5's Morgan Trau was tipped off the following day from another concerned parent about the comments McGuire made. She soon was sent the video of the businessman preaching to the public school students. The video is no longer available online, as River Valley Local Schools made it private.
"People like clap for him when he was done," Osipow exclaimed. "And I was like, 'Why are you guys clapping for this man?'"
The 18-year-old graduate is a lesbian and uses she/they pronouns. She told News 5 that using she for the article is good.
She was present for the six and a half minutes of McGuire's speech, but she wasn't fully there.
"I thought that I imagined him saying that, I didn't know that he actually was being for real," she added. "This can't actually be real."
More than just the speech was inappropriate, Fisher said. The applause was, too. His mind immediately went to Osipow.
"I knew that she had the courage to know that that wasn't the truth that was spoken there," he said. "That was his opinion of the truth."
Fisher, who graduated from River Valley High School, said this isn't what people of faith do.
"A lot of people feel that they actually have to force principles among people," he added.
The ceremony progressed without a hitch, upsetting both the father and daughter.
"The school allowed him to stay in the building and shake people's hands after they graduated," Osipow said. "They didn't say anything to him, they didn't confront him about anything."
She denied his handshake.
"He held his hand to me and said, 'oh, good job,' but I just walked by him because he shouldn't have been able to be in the room after that anyway," she added. "I didn't feel comfortable shaking this man's hand."
Fisher tried to approach McGuire after the ceremony.
"I wanted to tell him that through my Catholic faith, that God loves us all," he said. "I wanted him to hear that — I didn't catch up with him before he hid behind the curtain."
After two years of harassment from her classmates, Osipow has dealt with comments like this. She was outted by her supposed friends when she was a junior, and had to deal with invasive questions and hearing slurs while trying to finish school.
"I definitely have been treated a little bit differently now that people know who I really am," she added. "That's, I guess, what I should expect because I kind of go to school at River Valley."
It was the school’s response that shocked her the most.
"I think we were all expecting an apology in that email and they just tried brushing it under the rug," she said.
Fisher explained his disappointment.
"I was surprised that the school didn't respond quickly to say that was uncalled for and inappropriate," he said. "I knew my two daughters were taken aback and I was embarrassed that the school board put that gentleman in front of my daughters and put him in front of so many individuals that day."
News 5 reached out to the school multiple days before the story aired on June 3. Superintendent Adam Wickham gave the team a call, noting that he would be sending their statement over email.
What was included was the email statement that had been sent to News 5 a few times. In Wickham's message, he noted that the school would "not be making any further statements at this time."
The statement said, in part, "The speech was not reviewed by anyone on the RV Administrative team or Board of Education. Any views expressed by the speaker during his commencement speech reflected his personal beliefs.”
The full statement is included at the end of the article. Nowhere in the email or statement is there an apology. News 5 also reached out to McGuire, but he did not respond to comment.
The nonchalant reaction to the speech made Osipow think about the culture of homophobia at the school.
"They never even, like, said they were sorry, so I feel like that kind of was a little bit questionable to me," the graduate said. "They're not even apologizing for the things that we experienced at the graduation."
She isn't the only one to want an apology. Dozens of users online and numerous others told News 5 that the school "isn't taking responsibility" and "it's embarrassing and disappointing they won't."
Some graduates and families shared with News 5 that they don't believe that the school wouldn't check his speech before he was able to give it, citing that they check the valedictorian speech.
Fisher wants people to know that he stands with his stepdaughter.
"I'm just a proud parent who is astonished at the strength of not only my daughter, not only my daughters, but their friends that are facing similar situations — be it this type of concern or just really reflecting on their next generation and what obstacles they have to come overcome — that we left behind," he said. "I am proud of them for that."
High school was not great for Osipow, so this ending was fitting for her, she said.
"I'm definitely going to remember this graduation now that's going to be like a negative thing that I had to hear," she added. "I feel like I'm not going to really miss being in school, and I think it's going to be more of a relieving thing for me to be out of school.
"That's probably what I remember the most — is that I finally get to just be done with it."
River Valley is not the exception here. With Ohio considering bills to ban discussion of sexuality, including lawmakers introducing their own version of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, she said now more than ever — Ohioans need to be saying gay.
RELATED: Lawmakers hear Ohio's version of Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill
"It's terrible, and people were arguing 'Oh, it's gonna be good for young kids because they shouldn't be talking about being gay in school,'" she said. "I was like, that's not going to like change anything.
"We learn about being straight in school — it didn't make me straight when I was older. Like it doesn't matter. I think it's ridiculous"
All Osipow wants is an apology, or the school to take some form of responsibility, but she will settle for just being able to send a message to kids like her.
"Who you are is amazing, you shouldn't have to ever be ashamed of that. People are going to always have something negative to say, but that's not going to change who you are. You should learn to love that part of yourself because it's always going to be there and there's nothing wrong with that."
Story to watch tonight:— Morgan Trau (News Reporter) (@MorganTrau) June 3, 2022
I have been at the Statehouse covering the debate around discussions about sexuality in schools, but tonight I see how it plays out in a small town.
This came to a head when Cassidy's graduation speaker told the audience not be in a gay relationship. pic.twitter.com/JX6n51JGeA
The full statement:
Class of 2022 Graduates and Parents,
River Valley Local Schools would like to issue the following statement regarding the 2022 River Valley High School Graduation Ceremony: As with all alumni speeches in past ceremonies, the speech was not reviewed by anyone on the RV Administrative team or Board of Education. Any views expressed by the speaker during his commencement speech reflected his personal beliefs. He was not speaking as an official representative of River Valley Local Schools. In cooperation with the River Valley Board of Education, the River Valley Administrative team will be reviewing our processes for future ceremonies. Above all else, we want to ensure our students, families, and guests receive a high-quality program focusing on the accomplishments of our graduating class. Congratulations to the Class of 2022, and we wish you the best in the future! Thank you, RV Administration.
The alumni speaker was not a member of the River Valley staff and he was not speaking as an official representative of River Valley Local Schools. In the interest of transparency and clarity for our stakeholders, we have also included a transcript of the alumni speech below. At River Valley Local Schools we value all students, staff, and members of the Viking community
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