by Abe Asher
As a followup to this year’s Spectrum chapel, which took place two weeks ago, I asked members who participated in the chapel to share their thoughts on the culture around LGBTQ issues in the OES community — the progress it’s made, the work it still needs to do, and everything in between. Their thoughts are below, organized by topic, lightly edited for clarity. Contributors include Mark F., Henry T., and faculty advisor John Holloran.
JOHN: OES, in my experience, has long been a place where people in the community have been concerned with justice and inclusion, have wanted LGBT people to be well treated in society. However, when we first arrived, there was more silence and quiet protective feeling, not wanting to say or do the wrong thing, which made attempts to raise the topic more challenging because they were so infrequent. There had been a Gay Straight Alliance before we arrived — ask Corbet — but it was not still meeting when we arrived in 2003.
HENRY: I had never considered either the burden of remaining silent or the strength necessary to overcome it.
JOHN: When we arrived, people were concerned about students who might be struggling with their sexuality, and there were few positively open/out students. Around about 2009 several sophomores called a meeting determined to create a gay straight alliance to combat what they thought was too much anti-gay or homophobic language around OES. Rick and I and the former Art Dept Chair, Jack O’Brien agreed to be advisors, and Spectrum was born. Originally it was mostly, if not exclusively, self-identified allies.
HENRY: My first coming-out chapel was more surprising than anything else: I hadn’t considered that anyone I knew could be anything other than exactly like me or my family, or what that difference would mean. When my friend Mark came out a year later, I decided I needed to resolve my confusion, and so I joined Spectrum.
JOHN: Since that time, there have been almost annual Spectrum chapels, lunch meetings, and Culture Shock Sessions.
MARK: When I first truly evaluated my gender identity, I found it exceedingly obvious that I was not a girl — that I identified as a boy, and was transgender.
JOHN: In the last three years or so the number of self-identified, out students has grown — although many people still wait to come out until college. There are, as a result, more robust conversations, more visibility for LGBT issues than there once was.
MARK: Transitioning in this school has been much easier than I expected. I expected noticeable harassment, and so far I have only been present as the victim of it once on campus. The administration has been great, the faculty has been great, and my peers have been great—good work guys!
HENRY: Since then I’d like to believe that I’ve come a long way in my understanding and appreciation of those under the queer umbrella, as well as the diversity we’re lucky enough to have at OES. However, I wouldn’t have been able to gain that understanding without fellow students who are brave enough to express and talk about their identity.
MARK: I feel that by being my authentic self, you will learn from your exposure to me, a transgender person, to be better prepared to interact with people like me in the future.
HENRY: I’m incredibly fortunate to see my friends be the first voice and refuse to have their identities swept under the rug, and the transformative effect their courage has had.
JOHN: Getting favorable court decisions has been good, as well, but has also removed a major point of conversation.
MARK: I deeply appreciate all the efforts of my teachers and peers to use my name and gender right. The few times when I’ve been around when a friend spoke up to correct someone, I’ve really felt like a millions bucks.
HENRY: There was always a solemn undercurrent: people my age that, while confident, came from a place of suffering, had faced injustice for too long and were only now speaking out, and acknowledging that there was only so much they could do.
JOHN: We need to ask ourselves questions such as, how well are our athletic programs reflect the school’s values around gender and sexuality? Does our program adequately provide opportunities for LGBTQ identified to see themselves represented in the books we read, the topics we discuss?
MARK: I’m really excited for college, because I will get to start a four year journey with all new people who don’t have some ghost version of myself in their memory. I want to be seen as the Mark I am now, not something else I never really felt like.
HENRY: I wouldn’t have been able to question my worldview and start the process of learning without the open environment that Spectrum and its members have worked hard to create at OES.