Somewhere over the Rainbow

Each year in celebration of National Coming Out Day, rainbow bands adorn the pillars on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall. In conjunction, Andover’s Gay Straight Alliance sponsors events that include a drag dance and movie night, to spread awareness of homosexuality on campus. But how often do PA students discuss what it is like to be gay on campus? I can safely say, not often. Thus, the original intention of this assignment was to find out the answer to the question, “What is it like to be gay at Andover?” I expected the answer would be complicated. However, I soon realized that there is no one answer. I began my search at the first logical place: last Monday’s GSA meeting. Some heterosexual students at Andover believe that the GSA is for homosexual students only. They forget that the acronym stands for Gay Straight Alliance. When I arrived I found that a mere three members of the eleven were openly gay. I asked the group, “What is the common experience among homosexual students at Andover?” Many GSA members were offended by this question. They responded that there is no one “common experience” for a homosexual student at Andover, just as there is no one common experience for a musician, an athlete, or a minority student. We moved into discussion about what it is to be gay at Andover. The majority of the group agreed that homophobia ran rampant on campus, an idea that was widely disputed by other heterosexual students I spoke with. GSA President Alex Wolf ’06, said that “closeted homophobia” was prevalent within our community. Some expressed the opinion that while homophobia is rarely shown outwardly, many members of the community hold homophobic beliefs. Instructor in Chemistry and Advisor for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues Dr. Paul Cernota added, “I don’t think we change many opinions, but we change a lot of behavior.” One student said, “There’s not going to be a hate crime, but [homophobia] is still there.” We next discussed the issue of the annual GSA drag dance that took place this past Saturday. According to Wolf, the dance symbolizes the ambiguity between gender and sexual orientation. However, Wolf also said that he worried beforehand that the dance could deteriorate into a mean-spirited “freak show.” One GSA member worried that the community was not prepared for such a progressive weekend of events. She feared that many would attend the events without understanding the reasoning behind them or even that some people would not attend because the events advocated gay awareness. Even though Phillips Academy extols its virtue of “youth from every quarter,” some GSA members voiced their concern at the small number of openly gay students on campus. Some members even advocated establishing sexual orientation as another criterion in the admissions process. Some members of Andover’s homosexual community believed that the small number of “out” students forced them to be “asexual.” One student remarked, “I think a lot of gay kids don’t come out because they have no way to express their sexuality.” He believed that the relatively small number of gay students hampered the formation of gay relationships on campus. Despite these negative experiences, most agreed that the treatment of non-heterosexuals on campus depended upon the individual. One member said, “It varies from person to person how they perceive you.” Another said, “Being out is different for everyone.” After visiting the GSA meeting, I turned to a much different source, Instructor in Physical Education Karen Kennedy and her partner Linda Sharar, who celebrated the birth of their first child last year. Ms. Kennedy described the community’s response to her daughter’s birth, “I don’t think that we get treated any differently. The Andover community is celebratory of birth and all new additions.” Ms. Sharar added, “I haven’t seen any outward negativity.” Furthermore, she said, “We try to live our lives as personally as we can. There are people who are positive and we try to surround ourselves with them.” After the mixed feedback, I spoke with some heterosexual students about their perceptions of the treatment of homosexual students on campus. Most believed that the respect given to Andover’s gay community was much greater than that given at the majority of schools in America. However, on occasion, heterosexual students used the term “gay” as slang, synonymous with “stupid” or “lame.” Members of the GSA did not believe that the use of the term as an invective is ever appropriate. In agreement with many of the GSA members, most of the heterosexuals with whom I spoke recognized that the experience of gays at Andover varied from person to person. Thus, the question to ask is not, “What is it like to be gay at Andover?”. It is “What is it like to be you?”