During her time at Andover, Sharon Tentarelli ’90 founded the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.) chapter on campus. Last Saturday, April 13, Tentarelli visited campus with Nancy Boutillier, first faculty advisor of the club and former Instructor in English, to speak about the club for its 30th anniversary.
The keynote presentation given by Tentarelli and Boutillier was just one of many activities for the G.S.A.’s 30th anniversary weekend. Such other activities included workshops, luncheons, and a drag show.
Karin Ulanovsky ’20, current co-head of G.S.A., expressed her appreciation for Tentarelli’s courage and hard work to create the club.
“It’s a very vulnerable place to put yourself in, and I really valued that she made the sacrifice not only for herself and her peers, but for generations ahead of time…All of the ways that she used the resources she had…It made me feel like hopefully the things that I can do now will also be good for generations ahead,” said Ulanovsky.
Tentarelli began the club during her Upper year, when conversations regarding sexism, elitism, and tolerance began to circulate amongst students. After coming out in the summer before her Upper year, Tentarelli sought to create a space on campus that could host discussions regarding gender and sexuality.
She turned to faculty such as Boutilier and Cilla Bonney-Smith, former Instructor in Psychology, to help her create what she envisioned.
“Cilla Bonney-Smith in the counseling department was the person who was leading Andover’s efforts around AIDS education, and so when I was trying to think about if I wanted to get together a group of other gay and lesbian students…Cilla seemed like a good person to go to for this. She was doing the AIDS education so she was at least willing to say the word gay in public, which is probably more than I could have said for a lot of administrators,” said Tentarelli in her presentation.
On February 7, 1989, Andover’s Daily Bulletin, where all the events of the week were published, announced the first G.S.A. meeting. Although Tentarelli worried whether anyone would attend, about a dozen community members, both students and faculty, came.
As time went on, the G.S.A. became a more established space on campus, but there were still negative conceptions of the LGBTQIA+ community in broader society, according to Tentarelli.
“We [were] still criminalized. Religiously, we [were] still sinful; all that language was there. And that’s what Sharon was having to kind of fight through and I really admired that and I took courage from that and from my colleagues. And so when The Phillipian [went] ahead and [made] us a club, that was just awesome. We got listed like everybody else,” said Boutilier during her talk.
Boutilier said that she aimed to keep the students in mind when starting the club.
“Basically I tried to stay student-centered. I believed fully that I was doing what was right for students. And I am grateful to Sharon for giving me evidence, and that’s why I’m appealing to you as alums and students, what you do can help the teachers do what they need to do… that we want kids to have mirrors so they see themselves and have windows so they see other lives,” said Boutilier in the presentation.
Amelia Meyer ’21 appreciated what Tentarelli and Boutilier shared at the event.
“It was incredible to learn about the adversity our initial G.S.A. founders faced within themselves and within the Andover community. I had no idea about the fantastic details of Letters to the Editor [of The Phillipian about the club] and meetings in 1924 House that they did in the beginning,” said Meyer.
According to Tentarelli, founding the G.S.A. has helped her and other students find their own place at Andover.
“It meant so much to us to have the kind of environment where we could just get together with other students, share stories like that, share those feelings of feeling trapped, not feeling safe, have a place and not have to worry about what pronouns we’re using. Having that kind of safe space just meant so much to us,” said Tentarelli.
Ulanovsky said that G.S.A. still serves this purpose and explained that the weekend aimed to welcome both students and alums.
“This weekend was kind of just about making this place more welcoming to alumni who, for so long, felt really isolated and alienated on this campus. And we just want to make that paradigm shift and show them that the students who are here now are okay, and that we’re doing good, and that we hope that they’ll also feel good coming back to this campus,” said Ulanovsky.
Tentarelli emphasized the importance of being optimistic and of acknowledging the change that one generation can do.
“Recent political trends have been a lot more negative but I like to think longer term, what we’re likely to see, a generation from now. Some of you students may someday, a generation from now, be coming back here, maybe with your own kids. What will the landscape of things look like to you, not just in the wider society, but here at Andover?” said Tentarelli.