GSA To Mark Twentieth Anniversary With Interscholastic ?Conference and Next Week’s ASM Speaker Judy Shepard

The Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) will celebrate its twentieth anniversary this Sunday by hosting an interscholastic conference. The conference will center on the discussion of three topics: 20 years of GSA, the United States military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and the media representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in 2008. According to Frank Tipton, Instructor in History and Advisor on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, the GSA board decided on these topics for different panels and then decided to reach out to PA alumni and guest speakers. Andover began planning this conference last winter, and GSA has received about 95 reservations as of Tuesday, according to Tipton. Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man who was murdered ten years ago in a hate crime, will also speak at Wednesday’s All-School Meeting. Shepard is the Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created to “help youth organizations establish environments where young people can feel safe and be themselves,” according to the foundation’s website. Tipton said that it is important to realize that it is not only GSA’s twentieth anniversary, but also the 10-year anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. “We didn’t want our twentieth anniversary to be all excitement and thrills without recognizing some tragedies in the last 20 years. The road has not [only] been upwards,” said Tipton. Andover’s Theatre 210 class, Introduction to Acting, will also perform the play “The Laramie Project,” based on Shepard’s death. Student performances of excerpts from The Laramie Project are a part of Sunday’s scheduled activities. The play is based on interviews with people from Laramie, Wyoming about Shepard’s death and is directed by Eli Grober ’09. According to Judith Wombwell, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, 18 out of 20 students in the class will perform on Sunday. “Everyone involved in the process of the play being developed seemed to be enlightened [by it], so hopefully that will come through to the audience,” said Wombwell. After the performances, the audience will divide into small groups for discussion. Darren Manzella, a veteran army sergeant, will also speak out against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits individuals serving in the armed forces from disclosing their bisexual or homosexual orientations. Manzella served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the United States Army. He served his second tour as an openly gay man. After speaking to CBS News’s “60 Minutes” about his experiences as a gay soldier, Manzella’s commander notified him that he was going to be discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Hannah Turk ’09, a board member of GSA and a cast member of The Laramie Project, said, “I personally am very excited to hear [Manzella’s] story, and I think a lot of other people are really excited as well.” Randall Peffer, Instructor in English, will also speak at the GSA conference with Krystal Freeman ’03 about media representation of GLBT people. “I hope [our speech] will give people a chance to reflect on the images out there that get popularized of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people,” said Peffer. In addition to teaching at Andover, Peffer is a fiction author. Peffer said, “I’ve written a whole series of novels that have prominent gay, lesbian or bi people in them. I always try to go against stereotypes when I write. If you’re expecting this person to be one way because she’s a lesbian, then…the lesbian in my book is probably not going to be like that.” Sharon Tentarelli ’90, a founder of Andover’s GSA chapter, and Marta Paczynska ’94 will both speak about 20 years of GSA at Phillips Academy, according to the Andover website. Tipton said, “I hope that [the conference is] an opportunity for students from different schools to discuss what’s happened in the last twenty years as well as look at life for gay people in 2009 and what issues for the community exist.” Bradly Kneisel ’11 will attend the conference and perform in excerpts of The Laramie Project. “I’m really excited to be able to connect with other schools not just on a social level but on an intellectual, celebratory level,” said Kneisel. “I’m really looking forward to meeting and speaking to kids who could be GSA members at our school,” said Turk. “I’d love to see new faces showing up.” The conference will run from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon.