Gays felt like outsiders in high school

February 07, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: The Waynesboro Area School Board will host further discussion Tuesday night about whether to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school. Some board members have said the student club must be accepted under the Equal Access Act, while others said case law might allow for a denial.

The matter elicited passionate arguments for and against the club's formation at the last board meeting.

Herald-Mail reporter Jennifer Fitch recently talked to homosexual adults about their experiences in high school. Those experiences varied by era, but everyone mentioned a sense of not belonging.

Brian Hose,

2001 graduate of Clear Spring High School

"I was 'Mr. High School,'" Hose said. "I was involved in all the extracurricular activities and held a lot of leadership positions."

Hose's high school experience soured, though, when threatening notes appeared in his locker during his senior year. Hose claims the school administration ignored the notes, which included death threats, and said it would be unfair for a matter of "sexual harassment" to be on the perpetrators' permanent records.


Administrators allegedly recommended the teenager retain a lawyer if he wanted to pursue the matter.

"I felt betrayed because I had done a lot of work for the school," Hose said, citing blood drives and fundraisers he organized as examples.

He felt most of the faculty turned against him, although a few teachers shared vague support.

Hose, who is a youth activities adviser at New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown, hears from gay students that the school atmosphere is better for them now.

While Hose didn't make an announcement to classmates that he's gay, he was honest about it when asked. He told his mother in December 2000.

"I felt I had (to handle the threats) myself because my parents and friends were trying to deal with this in their own ways," Hose said.

Hose thought for a moment when asked what he would say to the students who threatened him.

"I would tell them I haven't held a grudge," he said, adding that he would like to talk to them about homosexuality if they still are bothered by it.

Ronnie Stephen,

1979 graduate of North Hagerstown High School

Stephen's sexual orientation was a poorly kept secret in high school, with students saying, "Oh, you're that one" as early as his freshman year.

"I could've done a lot better (in school), but I had low self-esteem and low self-confidence," he said.

Starting at age 4, Stephen knew he was gay. He found himself questioning God often in his teenage years.

"You couldn't discuss it with anybody. ... I felt out of place, even in my family," Stephen said.

Dread caused Stephen to miss a lot of school. He tried to make friends, but was overcome with shyness and became a loner. He hid in the library during lunch.

"I couldn't think anybody would understand what I was going through," he said.

Stephen spent four years unemployed after graduation and attempted suicide. It wasn't until he sought professional help that he developed healthier attitudes.

"There's a lot of hatred in this world," he said. "People like me need a place to fit in."

Jarvis Brooks,

1983 graduate of Liganore High School

"I didn't really come out myself until I was out of high school," Brooks said.

Although he felt he was different, Brooks said he didn't face any ridicule, which he attributed to a combination of his size and friendly demeanor.

"I would see it happen to other people whether they were male or female," Brooks said. "Sometimes, they were treated differently by the teachers."

In that era and living in a rural area, Brooks said there was a lot of concern about how being gay would reflect on family members. There was a fear of being rejected by people you trusted.

"Nowadays, I'm hoping it's better for a younger person," Brooks said.

He likened feeling different from classmates to the way he felt about being multiracial. He felt partially rejected by both the black and white communities.

In the black community, homosexuality is seen as a blemish, Brooks said.

However, the Hagerstown resident now feels comfortable in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He hopes young people find similar comfort.

"The key thing is for them to realize that no matter what anyone says to them, God loves them and there's nothing wrong about them," Brooks said.

Dan Stewart,

1967 graduate of Union High School in western Pennsylvania

Stewart remained married for 30 years until he came out of the closet.

"Growing up, I didn't know what my being different was," he said.

Students in the 1960s did not pick on others for homosexuality or being a feminine male, Stewart said.

"In the time I grew up, sexuality wasn't an issue that was discussed," he said.

As homosexuality became more prominent in the media, ignorance also gained prominence and led to violence and gay bashing, Stewart said.

"I think the kids nowadays who know they are different need a place they can have solace," he said.

Lorraine Travis,

1982 graduate in Prince Edward County, Va.

Travis didn't see bullying of gays in her school, but students wouldn't talk about homosexuality.

"You couldn't be open about that stuff," Travis said.

However, the Hagerstown resident feels young people need to engage in equality discussions. Those will benefit them later in society, Travis said.

"It's the same thing with race," she said.

Seeing a black man as president of the United States gives her hope that the world will change to better accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals.

If you go

What: Waynesboro Area School Board meeting

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Administrative offices, 210 Clayton Ave., Waynesboro, Pa.

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