Throughout communities everywhere, both in and out of Collegiate, there are a wide variety of opinions surrounding LGBTQ individuals and the individuals who identify as a part of that community–some positive, others negative. The United States has taken some steps toward equal opportunity for the LGBTQ community; in June 2015 the Supreme Court gave same-sex couples an equal marriage right in all 50 states. However, this ruling faced opposition, proving that legislation alone has not changed some of the negativity and fear surrounding this issue.
I spoke to two members of the Collegiate community who identify within the LGBTQ spectrum to ask them about their experiences. Connor Ferwerda (’17) and Helen Boyd (’18) spoke to me about their struggles and successes within Collegiate regarding their sexuality and gender identity.
Coming out in high school is a struggle that many teens face. Whether they are facing an unaccepting household or school environment, they will worry about rejection, discrimination, and, in many situations, even their safety. Ferwerda says, “If you know you are gay and haven’t come out yet, it’s a nerve-wracking thing. It’s something you have feared and possibly denied for so long, it took me two and a half years to come out.” Boyd says, “It’s not really common to have someone come out at this age.” Ferwerda and Boyd all agreed that coming out was a obstacle for them, and each of them spoke to the aftermath of coming out in high school. Boyd says, “Here, my friends are more accepting. Around people I’m not friends with I sometimes feel isolated.”
A theme that both students spoke to was their acceptance inside the Collegiate community. As a general theme, each of them believed that Collegiate was lacking a place for LGBTQ people to reach out, making them feel under-represented. Boyd says, “I wish there was more representation, it’s still a big issue, but we don’t really talk about it here.” Many schools have outreach groups such as a Gay-Straight Alliance, but none of these groups can be found at Collegiate. The diversity and inclusion club, Mosaic, comes closest to serving this purpose. Boyd speaks to the response to her personal sexual orientation, “I think that a lot of people struggle to comprehend that I can like both genders, a lot of people think I’m just trying to label myself and be different. Sometimes I feel like I am on the outside because I’m not one or the other.” Ferwerda, who is both gay and omnigender, meaning he does not identify within the gender spectrum, says, “I think everyone largely supports me being gay, but I don’t know if they support me being trans(gender),” and continues on to say, “It’s hard to find affirmation in the community…There is a negative stigma surrounding it.” Both have faced many challenges both in and out of the community coming out as bisexual and gay. Sarah Smithson (’16), a Mosaic member, says, “I think we’ve moved to a more healthy and accepting place, but we are not there yet, and we still need to talk more openly about gender and sexuality.” A theme that emerged is that an open dialogue at Collegiate would promote a more accepting and understanding response to LGBTQ individuals.
Ferwerda also also spoke to his struggles regarding his gender. Generally, gender seems to be a far more difficult issue than sexuality. Ferwerda says, “Even the LGBTQ community is not always familiar with omnigender. It’s scary because you are going against a well-known grain.” Ferwerda found his gender to be more difficult to be visible with, saying that it was a difficult thing to be public about. He says, “It’s really just kind of scary, until you are completely comfortable with yourself… it’s scary because you are afraid of losing friends.” Altogether, it has been difficult for Ferwerda to express his gender in the Collegiate community.
I asked Upper School Spanish teacher Liz Bowling, the Upper School’s Divisional Diversity Representative and Mosaic Co-Sponsor, about how she feels LGBTQ is represented at Collegiate. She said that since she began teaching at Collegiate in 1996, “The conversation is much easier. The fact that people are sharing speaks volumes… Each year we lay a stronger foundation as a community.” Bowling co-sponsors Mosaic with Erica Coffey, Director of International Programs and Upper School Dean of Student Life. Bowling says, “It’s hard to be a club that suits the needs of all… Mosaic provides an opportunity for students who need a place. I don’t think it’s enough, it’s just one of the ways that we infuse the concept into our daily lives.”
Outside of the LGBTQ community, Margaux Gaeser (’19) says, “I think Collegiate is supporting and open, I don’t think there is any judging, people accept you for that.” Her opinion generally contrasts with Ferwerda and Boyd’s, Boyd says, “I personally haven’t experienced any discrimination based on my sexuality, but I know there are thoughts behind people’s backs, and I think that there is judgment.” Altogether, a community of LGBTQ teens exists but lacks a voice at Collegiate, causing some students to be less confident in their sexual orientation or gender identity at school, fearing harassment or rejection. However, the community at Collegiate seems to be growing in their acceptance, as individuals gain understanding of LGBTQ issues. Strides toward a more open dialogue have been taken, but there is still a long way to go until it is fully open to be discussed, both in and out of the community, even on a national scale.
All photos by Abigail Winfree.