Day of Dialogue creates a safe environment to share stories and ask questions
April 28, 2016
B-block: Telling our stories
During the B-block “Telling Our Stories” assembly, moderated by sophomore Isabel Wexler and junior Sara Hogenboom, seven students spoke about their experiences identifying as a part of the LGBTQ community.
Senior Jerilyn McLean began the day with her speech about being gay. She emphasized how she disliked how people thought being gay was the only thing that defined her and the “incessant misconceptions” about her identity. McLean also expressed discontent with trying to mold herself into a more feminine character.
“You are so much more than what people tell you you are,” McLean said, leaving the thought with her peers at the end of her speech.
Junior Eli Levin, who identifies as pansexual and genderfluid, followed with a speech about a time that hu was turned away from the men’s dressing room when trying on a blazer at a clothing store.
After Levin, senior Julianna Yue spoke, who identifies as asexual and panromantic. She spoke about asexuals’ voices being widely unheard and her frustration at society labeling people as straight from the start of their lives.
Freshman Richard Lee followed with his story about coming out as gay to a friend over text message, and getting the courage to click the “send” button.
Junior Sam Pollak spoke fifth, delivering a letter to the audience entitled, “Dear straight people, Microaggressions 101” that he said was intended to make one feel uncomfortable. His speech, which expressed frustration and honesty, elicited laughter from the audience with its light mood.
“Dear straight boys, I get it. You’re straight,” Pollak repeated. “Me asking for the history homework isn’t me trying to flirt with you.”
Through a metaphor, Pollak described how microaggressions were harmful. According to Pollak, microaggressions are like papercuts; one won’t hurt you, but when your whole body is covered in them, you can’t move.
Junior KeiAntey Gamble spoke about her experience coming out as bisexual and how it hurt her relationship with some of the people she was close to. She gave advice to other people struggling to come out: talk to someone, and be confident and secure.
“No matter how hard it is to speak up and tell your story, you must find a way to do so,” Gamble said.
The final speaker was junior Travis Morgan, who identifies as bisexual and gender fluid. Morgan spoke about how they, as an avid football player, defied stereotypes about gender and sexuality. They ended the assembly with a message that helped to unify the many people in the room.
“You are all normal,” Morgan said.
A-block: LGBTQ events in history
The A-block assembly, entitled LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) Events in History, featured four individuals who have been involved in fighting for gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Massachusetts. Senior Ethan Kahn and junior Sara Hogenboom moderated the assembly and introduced each of the four speakers.
The first speaker, Hillary Goodridge, explained how she challenged marriage laws in Massachusetts in order to make same sex marriage legal and considered a constitutional right. She explained that being separated from her newborn daughter at the hospital since she and her partner, who gave birth to their daughter, weren’t considered a family, helped her understand how important the rights and privileges that come with marriage are.
Goodridge finished by explaining that she considers marriage “a gateway drug to our humanity,” saying that the fight for marriage equality will bring about LGBTQ rights in other areas.
The next speaker was Adam Harmon, formerly of the U.S. Army, who spoke about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and his experiences as a gay soldier. The policy was that no gay or lesbian person could serve in the army, but that no one had the right to ask if anyone else was gay. He said that on the occasions when someone was outed and forced to leave the Army, it sowed tremendous fear and anxiety.
But according to Harmon, practice was much more accepting than theory. He was basically openly gay for several years while in the Army without repercussions. He even had a transgender friend who medically transitioned during active service. He eventually married a fellow serviceman, several days after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed.
Mason Dunn spoke about his experiences being a transgender lawyer and advocate. He emphasized that trans rights are essential human rights, and are not limited to hot-button issues such as the right for trans people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identities.
Dunn also talked about identifying as transgender, non-binary and genderqueer, as well as being a lawyer. He said that while he used to think these two identities conflicted with one another, his partner convinced him that they were both were legitimate and compatible.
“We all have intersecting identities that can work together,” Dunn said.
The final speaker, Sue Hyde, of the National LGBTQ Task Force, talked about her advocating during the 1980’s for the ‘Foster Equality’ campaign after two foster children were removed from the home of their foster parents, a gay couple, because of public fear of gay men molesting children. She wore a t-shirt from the campaign with the slogan ‘Kids need love, not bigotry’.
Hyde connected this case with the current debate about which bathrooms transgender people should use, and the perception that gay and trans people are more likely to be sexual predators. She ended with a call to arms to defend LGBTQ rights wherever threats come up.
The GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) held a “Q & Gay” session during X-block on the Day of Dialogue in the MLK room. A panel of high school students answered questions from the audience about personal experiences and preferences.
The panel answered many questions such as what should be done about middle school homophobia. Many believed it could be diminished by increasing the quality of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) topics in middle school health classes.
The Driscoll school’s GTSA (Gay, Transgender and Straight Alliance) club came to the high school to see the Day of Dialogue. Started by 7th grader Dín Klein, the club is the first middle school GTSA club in Brookline.
Freshman Cait Donahue said that the high school’s bullying survey that is distributed to students in the beginning of the year ignores the struggles the queer community goes through. She said that it was obvious that the questions were more about stereotypical bullying situations than about the hard subjects such as bullying based on sexuality or gender.
One student asked a question about why there are not many racial minorities represented during the Day of Dialogue or in GSA. Junior Grey Fahrner said they are aware that a lot of people are uncomfortable, for either not wanting to be found out or not wanting to be associated with the LGBTQ community, and that that may be a reason why.
Senior Michelle Rios, who is Latina, said she believes that in many minority cultures, “being queer is a white person thing, not spoken about at home.”
Freshman Basya Klein answered a question about what to do when cisgender people feel uncomfortable being asked their pronouns.
“It’s a choice between making straight people feel uncomfortable and an entire group of people feel wrong and invalidated,” Klein said.
Fahrner said that when a student or teacher makes a mistake with their pronouns, they prefer when the person corrects themselves, moves on and does not make a big deal about it. They believe that it is important for people to continue correcting themselves when they use the wrong pronouns.
The panel agreed that a mix between saying pronouns out loud and writing them for the teacher is the best way for people to feel safe using their prefered pronouns. Some students said that they would feel uncomfortable saying their preferred pronouns out loud on their first day if they felt they wouldn’t be supported in a classroom.
Some panelists recounted how their families reacted when they came out. Freshman Nica Rossey said it was especially hard for her brother to come out as trans; their mother still uses his assigned birth name and pronouns around relatives.
The last questions, asked by a middle schooler, was about the panelists’ experience of fluidity and how they change what they label themselves as.
Donahue said that people have to accept that going through the process of coming out is hard, and that their gender identity might change. Freshman Kaelan Woodward believes good people will respect that others are still figuring things out.
E-block: International LGBTQ stories
The theme of the E-block assembly in the Auditorium, moderated by junior Grey Fahrner and freshman Cait Donahue, was international LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) stories, which featured four guest speakers, each from a different country.
The first speaker, John Abdallah Wambere, recounted his experiences living in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and can result in a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. He explained that in 2014 Uganda enacted a law that required authority figures to report incidences of homosexuality to the government or face jail time. Abdallah Wambere came to the United States that year and eventually sought asylum since he feared for his safety as a gay man in his home country.
The next speaker, Khanh Nguyen Tran Duy, described themselves as a “gender-nonconformist, radical queer activist.” Nguyen Tran Duy spoke of the complexity of attempting to reconcile their identity as both a Vietnamese-American and queer person. In America, they found the dominant LGBTQ culture to be white and cisgender, while in Vietnam, the one-party government forbids political protests and the language lacks a broad vocabulary of LGBTQ terms, making advocacy difficult.
Nabil Khan, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates in a Pakistani family, told his story of moving to the United States when he was 15 and gaining an increased awareness of his sexual orientation. He came out as gay in college and later founded the organization Queer Muslims of Boston. He experienced friction with his family once he told them he was attracted to men but eventually married a woman. He additionally mentioned that in popular culture women are seen as having the ability to explore sexual fluidity, while bisexual men are largely unrecognized by mainstream society.
The final speaker, Luca Istodor, a freshman in college who moved to the United States eight months ago, recounted how he created the first teen queer Romanian blog while in high school and became an activist at a young age. Although he characterized the environment he grew up in as liberal, he said that the Orthodox Church, which has a strong influence on Romanian politics, has a negative stance towards LGBTQ people. This has made it difficult to change the predominantly homophobic culture of Romania, which only legalized homosexuality in the year 2000 and still outlaws gay marriage.
Although each speaker shared their own unique experience, a common thread throughout their speeches was that many countries consider homosexuality and other queer identities as an invention of Western culture, and that many places around the world do not offer LGBTQ people basic rights and protection.
E-block: LGBTQ slam poetry
A slam poetry performance took place in the MLK room during E-block, with poets performing poems regarding sexuality.
Five poets performed, including two from Lowell, MA and three from the high school.
Senior Jaime Serrato Marks performed first, with his poem “The Love Song of Jaime Serrato Marks,” a reference to the T. S. Eliot poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. The poem included a reference to the refrain of Eliot’s poem and was about Serrato Marks coming to find his pansexual identity. The most powerful line of Serrato Marks’ poem was “self-hatred knows my name,” one of many lines during the block to elicit snaps from the audience.
Next, senior Lea Churchill performed “Lesbian Buzzkill,” which she said was the first slam poem she ever wrote. The poem was written as a message for people to stop fetishizing the fact that Churchill is lesbian. Her poem was primarily in free verse, but a notable exception was “I have not told anyone about the growing thing in me / about being the thing that you’re not supposed to be.”
After Churchill, Sarah Masse from Lowell performed. Her poem was about how she would treat a daughter if she were lesbian.
Masse was followed by Kristie Stead, also from Lowell. Stead’s poem dealt with the suicide of an 11-year-old gay boy from Springfield, MA who killed himself after being bullied regarding his sexuality. The poem was about the boy’s ascent to Heaven and his encounter with God.
The final poet to perform was senior Hannah Timmermann, who read her poem “Grace” about coming to terms with being pansexual during high school. Timmermann concluded her poem with “the biggest word I can spell is love. Love.” This resulted in a loud cheer from the audience, not just for Timmermann’s poem, but for all of the poets who performed.
The performances were followed by a Q&A with the poets.
While many lines from the performances stood out, one quote from Churchill’s “Lesbian Buzzkill” summarized the meaningfulness of the entire day:
“I am brave, I am powerful and I will never surrender.”
F-block: Telling our stories
The F-block “Telling our Stories” assembly featured eight speakers recounting their experiences of being part of the LGBTQ community in front a packed Roberts-Dubbs Auditorium.
The first speaker was senior Lily Schwartz who spoke about being lesbian and dating her best friend. She spoke of the loneliness and stifling atmosphere she felt regarding her sexuality, both from watching heteronormative television shows and while living in Ridgefield, Conn. Schwartz said her struggle with sexuality was an uphill battle, but she has reached the peak and “the view is beautiful.”
After Schwartz, senior Rosie Jacobs recounted to the auditorium the lessons she had learned about being a member in the queer community through three stories. Each of these stories dealt with Jacobs encountering social situations, some painful, some simply awkward, but all eye-opening, and what Jacobs has learned through these encounters.
Junior Grey Fahrner spoke next about their struggle of finding themselves. Fahrner, who was assigned as female at birth, spoke of coming to understand their identity, and the struggle they went through to be who they are.
Juniors and twins Maya Seicol and Isabel Seicol then spoke together about of the difference between how other people see you and how you understand yourself. Maya Seicol and Isabel Seicol, who alternated lines in a speech, told the audience to pursue finding themselves rather than be boxed in by the perceptions and preconceptions of others.
After the Seicol sisters, senior Amanda Nybakken spoke about being pansexual, and how few people know what being pansexual is. Nybakken answered questions about pansexuality that she said people often ask her.
Junior Sara Hogenboom spoke about being bisexual in the form of a letter to her past self. Hogenboom mentioned the fact she has come out to many people and coming out is a recurring process, and how it has brought her into activism and advocacy.
The final speaker was senior Ethan Kahn who talked about how being gay affects his day-to-day life. Kahn spoke about wanting to find a place to respect all people. He was first awakened to LGBTQ issues by insensitive comments during the 2012 election. Kahn said being gay is an important part of his identity now, and will remain so into the future.
G-block: Schuyler Bailar
The G-block assembly featured speaker named Schuyler Bailar. Bailar is the first openly transgender athlete to compete in any Division I sport of the NCAA, and currently swims on the men’s team at Harvard. He has recently spoken about his experience on Ellen and been the focus of a 60 minutes feature.
Bailar began his talk by describing his childhood, high school experience and transition. He said that he found high school students, including himself, to be too focused on what he called “paper successes,” or superficial accomplishments that can be included on college applications. Bailar said that he wanted to fit in during high school, and so he looked and acted like a girl while also accumulating lots of paper successes.
However, Bailar said that this mindset is dangerous in that it prevents high schoolers from asking themselves difficult questions and finding themselves as they grow up. Bailar said that although he should have felt like he was fitting in, he was unhappy and had mental health struggles. He wasn’t able to determine why until after high school, when he was in a residential treatment center for a few months. During that time, Bailar said that he asked all of the “figuring myself out” questions he had been neglecting, and ultimately decided to begin publicly identifying as a man.
Bailar had been recruited to swim for the Harvard women’s team, but after coming out and having conversations with his coaches, he was invited to swim for either the women’s or the men’s team since he hadn’t begun taking hormones yet. Bailar described the decision as “a war between you and yourself,” as he had to choose whether to continue pursuing records and goals as a woman in the pool or begin being happy and true to himself both in and out of the water. Ultimately, he chose the latter.
Bailar then showed a video of the first meet he competed in as a man. He said that he was happy when he was younger, but described the happiness he felt after transitioning as lighter, and not weighed down by anything. He concluded his talk by reading a poem he wrote to his eight-year-old self.
“You’ll grow up to be exactly who you are,” he said.