The Record

LGBTQ+ History at Horace Mann

Sadie Schwartz, Staff Writer

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With the arrival of pride month, it is important to recognize how far the community has come with accepting LGBTQ+ individuals while also keeping in mind how there is still work left to do. The Record chose to examine the climate of the school as a space for LGBTQ+ students and faculty by weaving together the perspectives of numerous LGBTQ+ alumni and current students and faculty members. 

HISTORY 

“Among the students, there was zero “gay” anything at all. I was kind of afraid to talk about it,” David Grotell ‘82 said. 

Carolyn Grose ‘84, who identifies as lesbian, was not “out” when she was in high school. “It was not an environment where that was in any way accepted. It was the 80s, so Ronald Reagan had just won and the conservative movement was just rearing its head, and there was a series of Supreme Court decisions restricting gay rights,” Grose said. 

English teacher Dr. Deborah Kassel ‘84 said that no one would have dared to come out during her time as a student at the school. “It was the middle of the AIDS epidemic, which unfortunately at the time was associated erroneously with being a “gay” disease,” Kassel said. “It was a different era where what we would now regard as hate speech had not yet entered into the collective unconscious as something problematic.” 

“The culture in the society was quite different than now. It was potentially dangerous to be open. Faculty were typically ‘in the closet.’ For many, many years I was the only “out” lesbian teacher,” former photography teacher Karen Johnson said. “Once I came out at the assembly, with administrative support, I felt that I wouldn’t be fired for my identity.” 

When Ben Balter ‘94 approached Johnson with the idea of gathering faculty support for starting a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), it was a very emotional experience for her to realize that students felt they were without faculty support, Johnson said. 

“When you’re at a school that celebrates diversity of all kinds and for some reason LGBT issues aren’t at the forefront and not discussed, this contributes to this silence and taboo culture,” Max Moran ‘12 said. 

COMING OUT 

The school has gone through waves when many more people felt more comfortable coming out and then there would be times when, for some reason, it didn’t feel okay anymore and far fewer students were “out,” Dean of Students Dr. Susan Delanty ‘79 said. 

Moran came out in the class president election assembly during his junior year because he was “fed up with how the LGBT identity was being represented at Horace Mann,” he said. 

Noah Shapiro ‘17 came out at a Unity Week assembly during junior year, he said. 

“You have all these images floating around in your head, from media, locker room conversations, and rumors of other people coming out,” Shapiro said. “It feels like this secretive, uncomfortable thing you can’t really tell a lot of people.” 

“I think the big reason why I came out was because knowing there are other kids out there like you is really comforting,” he said. 

Siona Gupta (11) came out in September of her freshman year through a post on Instagram. A lot of the feedback she received was immature and even negative because she was one of the first people in the grade to be open about sexuality, Gupta said. “I had a couple of close friends that I couldn’t be so close with after [coming out],” she said. 

Teo Armus-Laski ‘14 wrote his college essay about his fear of coming out, he said. When people asked him about what he was writing about, he would instead tell them it was about him watching Disney channel at a late age, Armus- Laski said. “That probably goes to show that it wasn’t something I wanted to blast in front of the whole school,” he said. 

“When I started here, there were teachers who were closeted. I was already out, [and] I certainly was not going to be closeted here, and right from the beginning, the community was very supportive of me,” History Department Chair Dr. Daniel Link said. 

“Coming out that young requires a whole collection of personal, familial, institutional and cultural support, much of which we’re seeing a lot more of now, but then there was very little of it,” Jordan Roth ‘93 said. 

HOMOPHOBIC EXPERIENCES IN HIGH SCHOOL 

Tucker Caploe ‘11 recalls walking away from a group of friends and someone saying “he’s such a faggot because he does theatre,” Caploe said. 

After this encounter, Caploe wrote an op-ed in The Record about the issue of people using the word “gay” as a pejorative. “Students would say ‘that test was too gay’ when they really meant ‘that test was too hard.’ I remember saying to people at HM at the time: ‘Why are you using this word to describe something you don’t like when it has nothing to do with value?’” Caploe said. 

Shapiro once overheard his own friend saying they didn’t understand how gay people could be fighting for marriage and how they couldn’t just be satisfied, he said. “It’s just weird things like that that make you rethink your relationships with people.” 

When Armus-Laski was at an away conference for Model Congress as a freshman, he was assigned to a room with two other male students, but there were only two beds. One of the students said, ‘I don’t want to share a bed. That’s gay,’ so someone ended up sleeping on pillows on the floor. That student ended up coming out as gay after high school, Armus-Laski said. 

“To be honest, I was bullied in middle school. When I joined the wrestling team I was called a lesbian a lot, and I wasn’t even out yet,” Dagmar Hillel ‘15 said. 

Allison Derose (11) hears “stupid” comments sometimes such as ‘that kid’s a fag’, ‘that’s gay, or how when someone says you should date their one gay friend when they find out your sexuality. “The damaging thing I’ve found is that you have to deal with these kind of ignorant or uneducated comments rather than addressing them and ending them,” she said. 

Students have said that they are often on the receiving end of homophobic comments, but the difficult thing is that those happen when adults are not present– locker rooms, school trips, in the hallway. That’s obviously incredibly hurtful for them and has caused some students to remain closeted, which has a negative effect on students’ emotional health, Link said. 

Harrison Haft (11), who has been “out” since the end of his sophomore year, hasn’t experienced any direct attacks, but feels judgement when he expresses himself in ways that would be considered stereotypically homosexual by those “who seem to think that their heteronormative, milquetoast gender expressions are the only valid option,” he said. 

GAY PRIDE 

“Contradictions continue even now, but step by step, a greater sense has evolved that LGBTQ+ students and faculty are valued members of the community, as with all manifestations of diversity, our presence enriches our community,” Johnson said. 

Throughout the years, many community members have participated in gay pride events, such as National Coming Out Day, GLSEN’s Day of Silence, and pride parades to show their allegiance to the cause. 

“The school has been very supportive and we do our best to help our students feel 

comfortable here. We want school to be their safe place,” Delanty said. 

“There were students who always observed National Coming Out Day. I remember a bunch of friends of mine came to school decked out in purple — purple nails, scarves. We certainly celebrated whether the school had an event or not,” Caploe said. 

“[Being gay at Horace Mann] has been really great, actually,” Test Center Coordinator Jesse Shaw said. “It’s very accepting, very open. It’s one of those things that no one really brings up or asks, and that’s the way the world should be–accepting and acknowledging of it.” 

“GSA actually marched in New York City twice when I was in GSA. That was a really great experience, and I’m glad that we were able to do that,” Hillel said. 

“In our grade, I think there are under five “out” queer people. There are not a ton of ‘out’ people but I think there are enough for there to be a queer community,” Elizabeth Chung (11) said. “I haven’t heard anything negative, especially having pursued a gay relationship within the school and being really open about it.” 

Conversely, Gupta has not noticed a queer presence at the school, she said. 

“The thing is that, when you’re queer, you’re [known as] the queer kid, but at Horace Mann, there’s space to [also] be [known for] other things,” Chung said. 

“Originally, ‘coming out’ was coming out of a place of restriction, of limitation, of hiding. But it’s also coming into a place. And preparing that place is the work of all of us. That is active work that we can all do everyday,” Roth 

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LGBTQ+ History at Horace Mann