I'm writing to you today to ask for your help in advancing a conversation with Elms high school and middle school administrators about creating safe environments for homosexual and gender-nonconforming Elms students. Because I remember your kindness, compassion, and attentiveness—and because people tell me you remember me fondly as well—I am hoping you can help me. I wrote to [Principal] twice and have received no reply; you can find those emails attached. From that email: in light of the recent suicides of five young people who were bullied and harassed for being gay, and as an out graduate who was also the victim of bullying in my time at the Elms, I am writing to ask what you are doing to ensure a safe environment for all students and to support LGBTQ students in the Elms community. I know, [Sister], that you understand what it means to speak truth to power. And you and I both know the Church's teaching on this issue: that—regardless of the ethics of sexual activity—the church recognizes LBGTQ people as fully human, fully dignified, and fully loved. I ached to have this perspective presented to me during my time there, and I want to know if it is being presented now.
I want to stress, first, that the Elms did much for me and helped me grow in numerous ways … I also received generous mentorship from my teachers, who were very much my surrogate parents during a period in which my home life was far from idyllic. In many ways I was sheltered within, and by, the Elms community. My health and productivity are directly attributable to some of those kinds of support.
But I also know that there is one part of me that was and is routinely ignored, silenced, disapproved of, and even shunned by folks at the Elms. I am an out lesbian. I married my wife in a civil ceremony at San Francisco City Hall in June 2008. In Judaism and Yiddish culture, we refer to one's destined, fated partner as one's bashert—beloved. She is my bashert. But I am afraid that that update will not be printed in the alumnae magazine—that shame and embarrassment is the result of my speaking my own truth.
I've known that I am a lesbian since before I even came to the Elms. But I didn't come out until I was 18, and I didn't come out to my mother because of the way I was received at the Elms but adults I trusted until I was well into my 20s. My years at the Elms were, in this way, around this issue, deeply painful. I was, especially in middle and early high school, teased and bullied by my classmates with the consent of the adults around us. As an older student, I was told to conceal who I was by adults I trusted, some of whom still work there.
I'm sure you and others would like to know what I'm talking about and who I'm talking about and what I mean. Let me illustrate, then, with but one example. In seventh grade, on the day of my bat mitzvah–literally, that day–and three months after my dad died, one of my classmates was picked to be the one to ask me if I was a lesbian on behalf of pretty much the entire seventh grade. All of the teachers knew about this. All of them found out about it. I know this because they sent the guidance counselor after me. But not one teacher said anything publically about how that kind of shaming was wrong. Or that there was nothing wrong with being a lesbian, if in fact I was. Which, it turned out, I am, but at the time this was totally was horrifying.
I know that the impulse—not yours, but probably the present administration's—is to try to contort the truth of what I'm saying, to diminish it by claiming that I exaggerate or that the responses I faced were the result of individual people's views and choices. This is not so. To believe otherwise is to participate in disempowering people on the margins and to ignore the plight—yes, the plight—of the students who, at present, are struggling to discover who they are.
So I wrote to [Principal] and I know she's read my letter. I've sent a Safe Space kit produced by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network to the school, and I hope it won't get thrown away. I've read Robert Mattingly, S.J.'s writings on this topic. I want to know what the Elms is doing and I think I deserve an answer.
It makes me heartsick to know that the Elms didn't love me as much as I loved the Elms. It makes me even sadder to have to be afraid that my sexuality has something to do with it. My rabbi says that the time to choose between pastoral and prophetic voices has passed. We must do both. Please join me.
Thank you in advance for your compassionate response. Please feel free to learn more about my activism around this issue at writeyourprincipal.com.
Yours in truth,
Jacqui S. ‘01