Quiet Culture

What does it mean to be gay at KUA?

Phrases like “that’s so gay” may seem harmless or unheard of at KUA, but those three words can hurt and silence an entire group of students.

Some teachers put up posters and signs that promote a respectful classroom

Here at KUA, we pride ourselves on being a tight-knit community, fully diverse in all aspects. All groups of students make their presence known at KUA. At ASMs we have international students speak about their culture and traditions; we have teams for a wide variety of sports; we even have clubs and organizations based on anything from cheese to religion. Yet there is one group on campus that remains more quiet: the LGBTQ community.

“Safe Zone” stickers and signs are a common way to help students understand that this is an inclusive environment.

This is not to say that there is a lack of students who identify as part of the LGBTQ community at KUA, but what it is saying is that they as a group are seemingly not very active in the larger community. So, the question becomes why are queer voices so much quieter in our chorus of diversity?

When asked about the inclusivity at KUA, Assistant Head of School Mr. Weidman notes that “for the most part, [KUA is inclusive]”. For gay students, Mr. Weidman says,“ [I’m] not sure students feel absolutely safe in coming out. The reason I think this is because I don’t know of any students who are publicly out.”

According to Ms. Kelly, the general climate of the student body at KUA “in terms of the sexual orientation, I’d say it’s fairly straight . . . There is pretty much an assumption that everybody who goes here is straight, which is not obviously the case but it [sic] is the assumption a lot of people make”.

She also notes that a lot of the KUA announcements and things of that nature at All School Meetings and dances are geared toward straight couples “in a pretty heteronormative way”.

Elizia Sternlicht, who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and is also the leader of the GSA club on campus, states that she thinks here at KUA there is “some level of homophobia, even if it’s not at the surface.”

Last year’s GSA presentation at Club Fair involved the presidents taking the stage draped in a rainbow flag

For Grace Bonner, a straight student here at KUA, when asked if she thinks that there is a present gay community on campus notes that “there is GSA and stuff, but I don’t think that necessarily counts as a community”.

Ms. Kelly states that she doesn’t think KUA is an “aggressive caustic environment,” in point of fact, she believes “that whatever patterns have developed are from very subtle background noise that probably people who have been in hiding are more sensitive to”.

When asked if he understands the KUA community to be open to students coming out, freshman Forest Simon, a straight student, explains,“I think overall it would [be an accepting experience for a gay student to come out] but there would of course be a few students who wouldn’t accept them. But I think most of the community would.”

When I began conducting interviews on the gay culture on campus, it became clear that it was a lot easier to find female members of the LGBTQ community.  When asked about the apparent disparity between out girls and boys, Elizia notes that she thinks this is because “high school is a time when people are trying to figure themselves out, and it would be nice to have an environment where everyone felt comfortable being themselves in but I feel like part of it is people trying to figure out what their sexuality is.”

When approached about this trend of little-to-no openly gay male students on campus, Mr. Weidman and his partner, administrator and teacher Mr. Kardel, reflected on their own time in high school and the trends and reasons that could have carried over. Mr. Weidman pointed out that because of the religious high school he went to, he was actually not out at that age, but he adds, “I knew I was gay from a very young age, but did not fully understand exactly what that meant, and because of my upbringing, it took me a long time to come out to my family and friends at 31 years old.”

Mr. Kardel notes that his high school experience was similar to Mr. Weidman’s in the respect that he wasn’t openly gay in high school, stating that “being out wasn’t really a choice unless I wanted to invite endless torment and violence. I saw other male students beaten pretty severally just because someone merely perceived that they might be gay.”

On February 15, Mr. Kardel spoke about being married to Mr. Weidman for 25 years, even showing a picture of the young couple

According to Time.com, 5 percent of men in the U.S are gay. There are around 182 male students at KUA, which means that statistically speaking, there should be around 9 male students who identify as gay.

These trends hold true when you take into consideration the fact that there are male students who have come out after leaving KUA and graduating. “I know that at least two people that are male [who] have come out since they left KUA,” senior Isabelle Brawley states.

Mr Kardel states that “While the amount of homophobia in the US has decreased markedly in my lifetime, it is still present.” This would also help to explain the disparity between nationwide statistics and those of the KUA community.

It is also interesting to note how much other forms of diversity are celebrated. Just walking through the dining hall, there are flags from a large range of countries representing the students here at KUA. Yet there isn’t a pride flag hanging where everybody can see it. It can be inferred that while the LGBTQ community isn’t shunned at KUA, it isn’t actively recognized either.

Positive representations of gay couples like Weidman (left) and Kardel (right) are one way to encourage more students to live as openly gay

There are some exceptions to that trend, however: most recently Mr. Kardel spoke at All School Meeting about celebrating his 25th anniversary to Mr. Weidman, which received a KUA-wide standing ovation. Enthusiasm from students and faculty made it clear that representations of healthy gay couples are welcome and celebrated at this school. If KUA wants to meet their aspirational goals of making all students feel welcome on campus (including the LGBTQ community) it is essential that announcements and celebrations like this must become a more consistent way of life.

The question of whether or not KUA is a safe place for students in the gay community is one whose answer is in the hands of the larger KUA community. There need to be more visible allies if there are going to be more visibly “out” students. Mr. Kardel notes that “I have confidence that KUA is a safe place for all kinds of people, including LGBT students, in general. KUA students are remarkably supportive of each other in lots of different situations and contexts. I’ve seen it. I would hope that if a student had the courage to come out, despite the rareness of that, that other members of community would treat them with respect and consider them full members of the community, and would stand up for them if someone chose to single them out for abuse or violence.”

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