Hateful note targets gay student

Chronicle Staff



By Allegra Tepper

An anonymous threatening and homophobic note left in an openly gay junior boy’s backpack led Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra to address all class meetings last week, in which they referred to the note as a disappointing anomaly.

The note, which read, “If it were legal to kill [expletive], you’d be first,” was classified as harassment upon being reported to the Los Angeles Police Department by the student’s family. Campus security reviewed surveillance tapes and the handwriting on the note, but no suspects have been identified.

“Our attitude is always that we are going to expend every ounce of our investigative skills,” Head of Security Jim Crawford said. “We’re not going to stop until we have no avenues to follow.”

Even so, from the victim’s perspective, the chances of finding the culpable parties are grim.

“It doesn’t sound like they are going to figure out who did this, and at first, it made me so angry,” he said. “Then I realized that whether this person is still in the community or not, the issue is beyond this one incident. It’s about educating people in the long run so this doesn’t happen again.

“This isn’t just a gay issue. It’s a hate issue. It’s a minority issue. Even if this person is gone, it’s not like this couldn’t happen again.”

Approximately 100 students and teachers gathered in Rugby for a Gay Straight Alliance meeting on Monday, May 17 to discuss the incident and measures that should be taken in response. An overwhelming majority agreed that this incident was more than just a small act of hate or homophobia. Students spoke up to suggest integrating gay rights lessons into the U.S. History curriculums and including more gay-friendly literature in English courses.

“I am going to leave [curriculum changes] in the hands of the Faculty Academic Committee and individual departments to consider,” Huybrechts said. “I think it’s very important that we don’t overreact to this. If nothing like this has happened in over a decade, generally speaking, this is an accepting community of kind and thoughtful students.”

Eli Petzold ’10 voiced similar beliefs at the meeting, also calling the incident an anomaly in the Harvard-Westlake community. Another student said the vocal support of homosexuality from faculty and students which have resulted from the note made him feel more comfortable with his sexuality, as well as more willing to stand up to people who use homophobic slurs.

“Had it happened a few years ago I would have been saddened,” Joe Girton ’10 said. “Now we are moving in the right direction and this was just a speed bump. I think we have been legitimizing the anti-gay movement as something that is very centric to the older population. I always assume that people in our generation are accepting. The most shocking was that it was someone our age.”

English teacher Martha Wheelock called the incident a textbook example of the “immorality of inertia,” and urged students to take this opportunity to begin speaking up. While the victim initially asked the administration if he could address the student body at an assembly, he concluded that it would not have the impact he thinks this issue deserves.

“My only opportunity was at a class meeting for the junior class, and I didn’t want to speak out to a bunch of my classmates texting,” he said.