FATHER AND SON: Bryant Huddlleston with his son Haven at Philander Smith
I wish more people could have heard TV producer Bryant Huddleston's
speech at Philander Smith College last night.
I've written frequently about the Imboden native, denied an opportunity to speak
at the graduation of his alma mater, Sloan-Hendrix High School because a couple of school board members didn't want a gay man speaking to graduates. They feared his "agenda."
Huddleston's agenda? He gave it last night. A speech encouraging women to be bold, to not sit passively in class or life. His sister was a member of the graduating class. His message was to young men, too, to not fear bold and accomplished women.
Yes, he talked about being gay in a small town and the importance of small voices in small places speaking up. He spoke of the bullying different kids face. He acknowledged how hard it is to step forward. He knew there'd be fallout when he wrote a letter to media about the speech he was denied. But the story went worldwide. If it didn't change many hearts and minds in Imboden — and it sounds like it has not — it has encouraged others elsewhere and brought Huddleston an outpouring of love. HIs family and many Arkansas friends turned out last night.
I was particularly happy to meet Huddleston's father, Steve, a towering retired state trooper who I doubt was ever timid on the highways or working undercover in search of white supremacists in Lawrence County. He's been a vigorous advocate for his son. I heard from him that a community that had welcomed him warmly since he arrived in 1975 had begun looking at him differently since his son stepped forward. I heard family members had encountered coolness in Bible class at church. He was School Board president when other members vetoed his son's speech. He's moving on. He goes about town as he always has. Why not? He has a son to be proud of. And a grandson who stole the show because it wouldn't do for him to sit in the audience while dad spoke. He didn't want to leave his side.