When I think back on my experiences as a teacher at Hutch Tech High School over 20 years ago, I am struck at how much has changed. In the midst of my tenure there I learned that you, my 25-year-old son, were gay. One of the people I turned to for support was a colleague and friend, Mike, who also happened to be gay. He eased my fears, especially my health fears for you. At that time there was still no controlling the AIDS epidemic. Besides, I saw that he and his partner had a stable life together surrounded by family and friends. Not lonely men going to clubs each night. Was that my secret fear? That you would be alone in the world? Maybe.
At that time, Mike felt he could not be out to his students. He told me very few (if any) gay teachers were. In fact some administrators openly discriminated against teachers they thought were gay. I knew students whispered about certain faculty members. So to confront this blatant homophobia he and I hatched a plan to apply for a small grant that brought LGBT books to my classroom. A very tiny step, I know, but so major at the time we had to get approval from the principal. I asked my students to move beyond their comfort zone and read LGBT books and report on them. After some nervous laughter at first, they were more than willing. Some of the books disappeared from my classroom library, which I thought was good since it meant some closeted student took them home to read. Maybe it gave him or her some needed support.
On a recent lunch with Mike, he told me how many students marched in our Buffalo Pride Parade this year as part of Gay Straight Alliances. This parade was the largest ever. When it first began 20 years ago there were very few marchers and very few observers. The newspaper and the TV stations did not even cover it. That all has changed. There was great fanfare in all the media about the largest parade ever.
Gay Lesbian Youth Services promoted the parade among the many local GSAs. There were over 250 students and parents. Now there are 24 GSAs marching in the Buffalo Pride Parade. My former school, Hutch Tech, had 27 students and parents participating. Back then we did not even imagine there could be a GSA. What a thrilling change.
Though gay and lesbian young people are coming out earlier and finding gay allies, make no mistake, I am not under the illusion that all is right with the world. There is still violence directed at gay people. There is still prejudice.
But the Pride Parade this year illustrates how far we have come. Not only because of a changing society but also because of brave men and women like you and your friends who have told their own stories. Organizations such as GLYS have helped schoolteachers and students in high schools brave enough to initiate and support GSA’s. To bravely march in parades that call attention to pride of identity is an achievement. The closet is dark and lonely. No longer should any young person (or old person) have to hide in shadows.
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