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Day of Dialogue 2019

April 7, 2019

Contributed by Nat Bergin

On Thursday April 4, the high school held its annual Day of Dialogue, a day that celebrates the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) community. Below is detailed coverage of many of the events and conversations from the day.

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Telling Our Stories #1

One story about regret, another about what it means to be an ally to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) community- All the stories being shared during the the B-block assembly, called “Telling our Stories #1,” were profound and from the heart.

The speakers at the assembly were students and teachers who spread courage and support to one another as they shared their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community to the entire school.

The first speaker, junior Anjoli Matthew, talked about how she did not feel like she had a story to tell compared to others in the LGBTQ+ community. Matthew said that living in Brookline has made her feel safe and she has not faced that much discrimination for coming out as bisexual. But she knows that won’t be the case everywhere she goes.

During the B-block assembly, students and teachers shared their experience of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community

According to Matthew, 61 percent of bisexual women experience sexual assault, as opposed to 35% of heterosexual women. Matthew expressed her worry about not necessarily feeling safe in another community that she chooses to live in the future.

Junior Nick Slayton started his speech by saying he has the biggest gay family. Slayton talked about holding loved ones back, out of fear of them getting hurt.

His younger sibling Oliver enjoys wearing makeup, and Slayton expressed his worry that Oliver would get teased for wearing lipstick during a visit to China.

According to Slayton, he wanted to protect his younger sibling from the rude comments they might get, but if he had acted on his instincts of protection, he would have been shielding Oliver from the world and the positive comments they would have gotten saying they were beautiful.

“People want to protect loved ones, and the easiest way is to contain them. We need to let them go,” Slayton said.

Jill Seaman-Chandler, a school nurse, talked about having confidence in who one is. Seaman-Chandler grew up in the Midwest and South and questioned if she was gay. She later found the LGBTQ+ community, but professionally, she struggled as a coach because she kept her sexuality shielded. This prevented her from forming closer connections with the kids on the team, and she regrets not being a role model for them. Seaman-Chandler’s final remarks were, “Live a life of authenticity that is true to who you are.”

Senior Peter Rachlin introduced himself as queer and masculine. Rachlin, a 12-season athlete, said he struggled with realizing he was queer because sports players are often tough and masculine. It was not until a friend came out to him that he understood it is not always about being tough.

“Vulnerability was not the opposite of strength,” Rachlin said. “Vulnerability takes strength.”

Sophomore Henry Brill talked about his cousins who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and how his family supports people who are gay. Brill said that he is always offended when people make discriminatory comments against gay people.

Senior Kay Tibito told the audience about their journey of coming out. Kay came out as non-binary in sophomore year and had anxiety over being judged for their identity. Tibito said they knew who they were, but they felt the need to alter themselves for the benefit of other people. It wasn’t until junior and senior year that Tibito started to let themselves be who they felt they were. Today, Tibito no longer tries to shape themselves into something they are not, and they encouraged others to do the same.

The last speaker of the B-block assembly was social studies teacher Malcolm Cawthorne. Cawthorne’s speech was emotional and quite different from the others. He grabbed everyone’s attention when he started his speech by saying, “I am not an ally. I want to be. I’d like to think I am.”  

Cawthorne’s reasoning for not being an ally is all the times that he should have said something to the kid who was making a homophobic joke. He said he owed it to his father to be an ally because his father raised him to be one.

Cawthorne’s father’s best friend Bill, who was gay, was like a family member to him. So, it was a shock when Bill died of AIDS. It made Cawthorne come to the revelation that he did not honor Bill when he was alive, but it wasn’t too late to honor him now.

Cawthorne’s speech, urging those in the audience to be a better person than he was, was emotional and passionate. It left people pondering the importance of being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

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Assembly on Intersectionality

During E-block, the Roberts-Dubbs Auditorium served a different purpose than it did for the “Telling Our Stories” blocks. It was transformed from a place of quiet respect for students and staff opening up to the school to a place where a lively, engaging and thought-provoking sermon of sorts could occur.

Juniors Emma Perez and Haley Bos introduced the concept of intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

The assembly on intersectionality, which was hosted by juniors Emma Perez and Haley Bos, and featured guest speaker Reverend Irene Monroe, was one of contemplation, inspiration and motivation.

The assembly started with an activity in which Perez and Bos told everyone to stand up, and then sit down when a name was said that they did not recognize. The names started with white queer people, and then moved onto queer people of color. The exercise was designed to show that, even within a marginalized community like the LGBTQ+ community, there are differences in how people see and are aware of LGBTQ+ people, based on their race. This was their way of introducing the idea of intersectionality to the audience.

The term “intersectionality” was coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw defined intersectionality as “analytic sensibility. A way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Intersectionality draws attention to invisibility that exist in feminism and in anti-racism and in class politics.”

Next, Monroe came onto the stage. Monroe is an African-American lesbian who is also an ordained minister who works on podcasts, on the radio, in the newspaper and in many more mediums. In 1998, she was the Grand Marshal of the Boston Pride Parade, marking the first time an African-American was honored in that position and the first time a woman led the parade.

Guest speaker Reverend Irene Monroe, who is an African-American lesbian, spoke about the importance of having an intersectional approach in fighting injustices.

Monroe started her speech with the powerful reminder that the 2019 Day of Dialogue was occurring on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and that “what he fought for is very much what we’re seeing in today’s assemblies.” This set the tone for the rest of her presentation, which Monroe concluded by asserting that, “while we try to live out loud, it’s important for us to have an intersectional approach. It’s not enough for me just to be fighting about racism. I have to be fighting about racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, because as King said, ‘What affects one affects all.’”

Monroe’s speech told the story of figuring out her sexuality and how it related to other aspects of her identity, such as her race and religion. She harped on the idea that there was really no representation of any LGBTQ+ people when she was growing up, let alone queer people of color.

When Monroe decided to apply to seminary school, she learned from one of the schools that even though she had one of the top applications, she would have to decide if she wanted to go to school there or be gay, because the school said they did not have any lesbians or homosexuals and they did not want her “recruiting” more. This was one step in her journey towards realizing how different aspects of people’s identities were connected.

The assembly concluded with a brief Q-and-A session, with Monroe’s answers further emphasizing the importance of intersectionality and fighting for what one believes in.


The Truth about Conversion Therapy

“My parents were coming from a place of love, but they put me in what can only be described as torture. They stuck needles in my fingers {and} shoved electricity through my entire body while images of men having sex with men played across the screen. I would scream, ‘Mommy make it stop,’” Sam Brinton, head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for Trevor Project, said in a video played during the E-block assembly in room 385. “I still carry those scars. When I had my first kiss with my fiancé Kevin, I threw up from the pain.”

Conversion therapy is a controversial pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender expression, usually through talking to a therapist. But in the past, treatments such as induced vomiting, electric shocks, chemical castration or ice pick lobotomies have been used.

The assembly showed videos of people telling their conversion therapy stories.

“Anger, pain, suicide: Conversion therapy’s lasting impact, as told by a survivor,”  a video by ABC News, followed Brain Sullivan, a man who went through conversion therapy and was married to a woman for 8 years, until he eventually accepted he was gay.

“You begin to hate yourself. You begin to say horrible things about yourself to change,” Sullivan said.

In a video called “I survived gay ‘cure’ therapy” by PinkNews, Garrard Conley, the author of “Boy Erased,” talked about his experience at the conversion therapy camp Love and Action.

“We were told that we were sexual perverts and that we were addicted to sex,” Conley said. “There are days when I still feel as though I can’t touch my partner’s skin without feeling like I’m on fire or I feel these extreme bouts of shame that wash over me and I have to convince myself to get out of them. I think about all the years I lost to that kind of thought. How do you possibly get those years of your life back?”

The assembly concluded with a conversation between students and teachers on topics from conversion therapy for minors versus adults to if being gay is a choice.


Performance by BETCo on LGBTQ+ Themes

During E-block in the Black Box, the Brookline Educational Theatre Company (BETCo) performed short skits about LGBTQ+ topics. The student-crafted scenes showcased a variety of genres, from a romantic comedy to a TV show to a superhero movie, and spurred dialogue about many of the LGBTQ+ issues present today.

A particularly poignant skit told the story of a transgender father (junior Clay Baker-Lerner) who was fighting in a court case for the right to keep his son. The prosecutor (junior Pablo Maytorena) argued that the father’s transition meant a second puberty. As a result, he contended that the father was basically a 15-year-old teenager and should not be trusted with the child. Although this scene was rather heart-wrenching, it successfully brought light to one of the many injustices faced by the transgender community.

Another scene depicted a lesbian girl (senior Masha Kazantsev) getting a cleansing because her family believed that her behavior was not normal. The girl was lying down on the ground while the priest (senior Greg Kim) read a prayer asking for forgiveness. As he did this, the girl kept physically shaking on the ground. This scene conveyed the harsh reality of how gay and lesbian individuals are treated in some places.

During BETCo’s E-block performance, a children’s TV show host (played by junior Ben Kiel) teaches about electricity through zapping individuals who are LGBTQ+.

Following this skit was one that mimicked a children’s TV show. The host (junior Ben Kiel), speaking in an upbeat voice, taught the audience (“the kids”) about electricity. He started by explaining how electricity is important for lights and computers and then encouraged the audience to repeat the word “electricity” with him, which nearly everyone did.

He then introduced several guests, and this is when the seemingly innocent television program took a dark turn. The guests, who were homosexual, bisexual and asexual, took turns sitting in a chair in front of the host. The host proceeded to zap each of them with electricity to make them all “normal” again. He asked the audience to repeat the word “electricity” with him once more. This interactive part of the skit forced the audience to consider whether to repeat the word, which relatively fewer students did.

Following the performances was a short discussion during which students could reflect upon what they gained from watching the skits. Overall, BETCo’s performance did a great job of not only entertaining the audience, but also allowing them to open their eyes to the negative stereotypes and unfair discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.

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To speak in front of a crowd requires immense strength; so does revealing one’s vulnerability and personal experiences. During G-block, seven brave students and faculty members did both.

The Telling Our Stories assembly was a valuable and eye-opening opportunity for LGBTQ+ community members and allies to share their perspectives with the high school.

The first speaker was senior Rebecca Perez, who reflected on the three times she came out. She stressed that people are multifaceted, and labels often fail to capture who one is.

“Who I am now does not invalidate who I was then, and who I was then does not invalidate who I am now,” Perez said. 

Sophomore James Kindall spoke about how his non-binary identity became a focal point of his identity after he came out at age 13. Two years later, he realized that he had “been a boy the whole time.”

Since then, Kindall has become more invested in passing as cisgender and has also realized that he does not need to conform to stereotypes to be male.

Next, sophomore Sol Heo spoke about their experiences as a queer member of a Korean family. Heo revealed that they are underrepresented as a queer person of color in a deeply cis- and heteronormative society. Additionally, some of their family members, teachers and peers avoid using the correct pronouns, meaning Heo doesn’t always feel protected.

“My name is Sol,” Heo said. “I use they/them pronouns. Please remember that.”

Afterwards, history teacher Kathryn Leslie spoke about growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, when the AIDS crisis and lack of LGBTQ+ role models prevented her from embracing her identity. However, the tragic suicide of a gay student provoked Leslie to become vocal about her sexuality and to advise students about LGBTQ+ topics.

“I don’t want LGBTQ kids out there to live in as much fear as I did,” Leslie said. “You can be queer and be successful. You can be queer and have a family. You can be queer and happy.”

The following speaker, senior Reece Carew-Lyons, shared her experiences growing up with two moms in a neighborhood with many LGBTQ+ families. However, as she got older, she learned about discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, which made her more reluctant to speak about her family.

“My goal is to reclaim the pride I had as a kid,” Carew-Lyons said, citing her moms as a source of strength.

Sophomore Kaiden McCullough also shared their experiences coming out to their family, who weren’t supportive of their transgender identity. However, McCullough found support from friends and noted that they were not defined by the discriminatory words of others.

Finally, English teacher Evan Mousseau concluded with a humorous, poignant speech about his experiences being gay in high school. He used the film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” as a parallel for how being unready to come out as gay didn’t undermine his identity. He described coming out as a “leap of faith,” an experience that one can’t truly be ready for.

“I don’t think you need my story to figure yours out,” Mousseau said. “Don’t do it like me. Do it like you.”

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