Gay and lesbian members of the Harvard-Westlake faculty talked about their experiences growing up in the Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club’s “Ask a Queer Teacher” event on Feb. 24.
Visual arts department head Cheri Gaulke, science teacher Nate Cardin, technology center director Chris Gragg, psychology teacher Luba Bek, performing arts teacher Mark Hilt and math teacher William Thill, all answered questions from students about their experiences as homosexuals.
All of the teachers grew up in either rural or conservative settings where being gay wasn’t accepted as readily as in Los Angeles.
“I grew up in a Littleton, Colorado,” Thill said. “The environment I was in was in many ways hyper-conservative. I grew up in a Catholic family. I wouldn’t say the hyper-conservatism came from there, only some of it. I went to an all-boys Catholic sports school where any mention of homosexuality was immediately tied to AIDS. You were preemptively beat up if people even thought you were gay.”
Bek grew up in Russia and where it was not only a question of stigmatism but of not knowing what being gay was.
“I always knew I was not ‘normal,’” Bek said. “I grew up in Russia where there was no word for gay or lesbian and if there’s no word, you don’t know what that is,” Bek said. “I knew I didn’t like boys but I thought that everybody didn’t like boys, that they were faking it and so I faked it too.”
The event ended with the panel answering the question “What is it like to be a gay teacher at Harvard Westlake?”
“When I applied to a head-hunter, they asked if I had any geographical restrictions,” Cardin said. “I said my only restriction is that I want to work at a school where I can bring my male partner to events. My biggest worry coming into teaching, which has been assuaged by Harvard-Westlake, was that as a male teacher there is an overwhelming assumption that you are going to be a pedophile. That if you are alone in a room with a kid you’re going to do something with them. Which is wildly not true. But in teaching, one accusation, even if it’s not true, can be devastating. And so my worry was that if someone got a bad grade on a test and didn’t like me because of it, there’s an easy route to bring homophobia. And that is not the case at all at Harvard-Westlake and I count myself incredibly lucky.”