GSA dances and hosts teacher panel

By Allison Hamburger

After breaking into a dance in the quad at break May 18, Gay-Straight Alliance members led spectators to Ahmanson, where a panel of four gay and lesbian teachers discussed how they and others have dealt with their sexual orientation.

Without prior announcement, about 20 students performed the dance from viral YouTube video “Double Dream Hands,” drawing a large crowd. The club aimed to emulate a flash mob, when a group of people seemingly spontaneously begin a random act in public.

“The point of the flash mob was to be visible on campus, and a lot of people saw us so that was successful,” President of GSA Gabe Benjamin ’11 said. The dancers formed a conga line to direct people toward the panel.

Technology Integration Specialist Jennifer Lamkins, math teachers Jeffrey Snapp and Bill Thill and humanities teacher Martha Wheelock told the audience their respective coming-out stories in a panel moderated by co-presidents Benjamin and Danielle Strassman ’11 and Faculty Advisers Cheri Gaulke and Nancy Popp.

Wheelock said that her parents found out her sexual orientation when a photo of her holding a sign that read “Mother Nature is a lesbian” was published in Time magazine. Wheelock identifies herself as a “humanist,” someone who loves everybody.

Snapp said that coming out as gay was not a specific event, but rather a progression.

“It was a journey towards honesty,” he said.

The homophobia at the all-boys Catholic School Thill attended made reconciling his perception of himself difficult, he said.

“I had to work hard to self-censor every movement,” Thill said, though his physical appearance protected him. Thill ultimately came out to other teachers at a school he worked at, but was fired because there was already a gay teacher at the school.

“They were tolerant, but not accepting,” Thill said.

Lamkins said that she has many coming-out stories, and each one is a decision. The first time she told a student that she was a lesbian, he was accepting, but she has lost jobs and friends in the past, Lamkins said.

“The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy,” she said.

The teachers also spoke about homophobia in schools and others’ assumptions that everyone is straight. If someone implies that he is straight, Thill said, he will either correct them or let it slide, depending on the situation, but he usually mentions his partner openly.

The events were organized to promote Pride Day on Friday, May 27. Pride Day will include a scavenger hunt with other high school GSA clubs and a fundraising event for the Trevor Project, a hotline to prevent suicide among gay youth, Benjamin said. GSA also plans to encourage students to dress up in rainbow colors and will provide rainbow face paint and chalk.