In a national poll, 60.8% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. (www.thinkb4youspeak.com) But that statistic doesn’t apply to Pace, right? As a small private school with a student body commonly referred to as “artsy,” Pace is often viewed as a liberal and accepting community. The Knightly News recently surveyed students in the Upper School, asking whether Pace is accepting of Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transsexual students, or LGBT students. Opinions were split, with 44% of students saying that Pace is accepting, 43% of students saying Pace is not accepting, and 13% unsure. While some students said that Pace is “100% accepting,” others said that the school’s environment is “homophobic.” One anonymous student commented, “I feel like the student and faculty’s perception of homosexuality ranges from complete acceptance to vehement homophobia, but mostly is centered around a sort of disinterested tolerance.”
Most students are torn, explaining that while Pace is not exactly accepting, it is better than most. “I think that, though it could be much worse, we’re still not as accepting as we would like to think we are,” said senior Larisa Bainton. Senior John Carolin agreed, saying, “It is not a truly accepting environment; the fact that [LGBT] students are scared to come out of the closet is testament to this fact… [But] I feel that it is better than many of the alternatives.” The one thing all students can agree on is that the subject is not talked about openly. “I think it is kind of a taboo subject … It’s sort of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,'” commented senior Hannah Hoff. “No one really speaks out about it, either agreeing or disagreeing,” said senior Morgan Batey. Pace class of 2010 grad Nicole Tay explained, “[At Pace], it’s always been the elephant in the room.”
Most students, gay and straight alike, agree that “the closet” remains the safer place. “The fear of being judged is huge. Knowing that people are whispering and laughing at you behind your back leads to constant fear,” said one student. Another added, “The further from straight you are, the less commonly accepted you’ll be at Pace.” Whether Pace is accepting or not, there is a LGBT community at Pace that is afraid to show its face. The fear of persecution is so great, it often prevents Pace from having openly homosexual students. One student revealed that they would like to be open about their sexuality, but are afraid, commenting, “I love Pace and I feel comfortable here. But hearing ‘faggot,’ ‘queer,’ and ‘homo’ repeatedly in the halls or in Inman scares me.” This student later added, “People need to realize that homosexuality is NOT a choice, nor an alternate lifestyle. I am the same person you have always known, but now you know a little more about me.”
Many share the feeling that Pace is not accepting simply because “gay” is often misused as a negative adjective. “When someone uses the word ‘gay’ to be synonymous with ‘sucks,’ it really infuriates me,” said another anonymous student. “I know that people just aren’t thinking, but jokes and comments like that don’t make for a very safe-feeling place.” One student was “accused” of being gay and then abandoned by their friends. “It was really hurtful,” the student said, “not in the sense that I would be ashamed to be gay, but that the person saying it implied it to be a negative.” The student also commented that Pace is not as accepting as it should be. “Slurs about homosexuality are tossed around much too casually for [LGBT students] to be comfortable.”
However, about 65% of students say Pace should be a comfortable place for LGBT students to “come out.” Sterling Butler, a Pace freshman last year, described coming out to Pace as “freeing.” He explained, “I already knew that people were going to talk about me; that’s just how high school works. But I didn’t let it phase me. After middle school, I felt like I couldn’t keep hiding myself, so I started to dress different and I started hanging out with completely different people. I didn’t have to watch what I said and my friends seemed to like me a lot more since I was honest with who I am.”
Pace faculty members Ms. Anderson and Mr. McAdoo find that coming out successfully all depends on the student. Ms. Anderson explained that the time to come out is “when you become comfortable with your identity. It has to do with your ability to withstand criticism and ignore slander, which many high school students aren’t prepared for. For most students, the time will come in college, but I think if a student did come out [to Pace], they would be supported by the faculty and the student body.” Mr. McAdoo similarly said, “Coming out is a personal journey.” He added, “Times are so different from when I grew up, people are much more accepting than they used to be. As a result, more people have started coming out a younger age.”
In the past, Nicole and fellow Pace class of 2010 grad Andrew Longhi made efforts to create a club advocating on behalf of the LGBT community and struggled with administration to get it established. Andrew recalled that the administration didn’t let him extend his newfound confidence to the rest of the school by blocking his attempt to create a gay straight alliance, or GSA. He said, “It is really a shame that the Pace administration refuses to think progressively. It is a disservice to students that need institutional support to feel welcome as gay members of the Pace community and may not be confident enough to ask for that help, out of fear of being ridiculed by their classmates. Hopefully [the Pace Administration] will move past whatever roadblock is stopping them and realize that we expect all of human existence to be capable of equality.”
Nicole similarly had to overcome a lot of adversity to establish the group Spectrum (along with then-junior Elizabeth Hill) her senior year. Spectrum had some success, organizing multiple meetings for students to discuss Pace and homosexuality. At first, administration was against the creation of Spectrum. Nicole explained, “There was much argument that Pace was in fact a ‘safe space,’ free of discrimination as evidenced by our ‘zero tolerance’ rule against violence; this therefore nullified the need for such a club. However, I and many others argued that the administration could not simply wait for a LGBT student to be discriminated against for the administration to act.” While the group didn’t get everything they asked for, the fact that Spectrum was allowed to form was a big step forward. It does appear that at present, Pace is becoming more accepting. Hardly any underclassmen think that Pace is not accepting of LGBT students.
Since Andrew’s and Nicole’s graduation, Spectrum and the support for a GSA has lost its student following. All students agreed that the LGBT community, at least openly, is not making an impact. The question is whether reinstituting some type of club would benefit Pace. “Pace should, in my opinion, institute some sort of straight-gay alliance, a revamped Spectrum, or some other program where people who are straight and not straight can at least talk about the issue,” said one student.
The presence of a club might serve to educate students about LGBT issues. In the survey, there were a number of students who didn’t know what the acronym LGBT stood for. Nicole insisted that “students should know that non-straight people exist — not just on ‘Project Runway’ and ‘The L Word.'”
But on the other hand, these clubs don’t necessarily create unity between sexual orientations in our community. “I’m glad the gay community is not separated from the Pace community,” said Ms. Anderson. “Clubs at Pace really work well for people who share interests in chess, film, sailing, and ‘Super Smash Brothers,’ but I am not sure that we should use the same model for issues that relate to identity and diversity.” She explained that Pace discourages clubs for various religions, races, or ethnicities because it doesn’t celebrate Pace’s diversity. “For us to be separated, wouldn’t benefit Pace as a whole. We should all share our lives together and not be afraid of each other’s differences.”
In the absence of any sort of sexual-orientation club, Live and Let Live club has been picking up the slack. This inclusive club talks about Pace, acceptance, and exercising the message of assembly speaker Marc Elliot in the Upper School.
By Taylor Esler, Managing Editor ’12
Photo: Taylor Esler