I graduated from Affton High School in 1982 as valedictorian of my class.
While I was at Affton, I earned a 4.33 grade point average, sang in the choir, performed in every play and musical, competed on the speech team, and wrote a musical my senior year which got me and Affton High School on the TV news magazine "PM Magazine." I went on to graduate from Harvard University as a music major.
My high school years were wonderful except in one important area. I'm gay, and though I fell in love for the first time my sophomore year, like many other kids, I could not tell anyone because the objection of my affection was another boy. Though people don't realize it, what is left unsaid and what is implied can be far more powerful than what is said.
Everywhere I turned it was made clear to me that I was a freak, that no one else was like me. The most popular insults among kids were implications of homosexuality, and teachers never said a word to stop it. It was a terrible, empty, lonely feeling to believe that I was the only one on the planet with feelings that were apparently deviant. So I convinced myself I wasn't gay. I took girls to homecoming and prom, which only made it harder.
It wasn't until college that I finally realized it was okay to be gay, that millions of Americans are gay, that the majority of western culture has been created by gays and lesbians. Now at age 31, as a proud gay man, I've written and had produced eight musicals, I've just finished writing my first book which will be published in May, I write for national magazines, a recording of my last musical will be released commercially this spring on CD, and I'm the artistic director of a nationally respected alternative musical theatre company. I see now that I have a responsibility to try to make things better for the kids today who are gay and don't know how to deal with it.
School is supposed to be a place to explore ideas, cultures, and people different from us, a place to try to understand the wonderful, varied, diverse world we live in. School is also supposed to be a place where kids can feel safe, respected, encouraged, nurtured. Certainly schools should not "promote" homosexuality; schools shouldn't "promote" sexuality of any kind. But schools should acknowledge that it's okay to be gay, discourage anti-gay remarks from students, and provide counseling for gay and lesbian teens who need help dealing with their feelings.
It's time to change the medieval attitudes that made my teenage years so difficult. Gay teens need to know that they can grow up to be happy, successful people who contribute to our society. No one ever told me that and it took me until I was in my twenties to find it out. Don't do that to more teens. One third of teen suicides today are kids who have realized they're gay and are so terrified of how their family and friends will react that they kill themselves. Do we want to contribute to that?
I owe many of my accomplishments to the teachers and administrators of Affton High School, but they are also directly responsible for some of the most difficult and painful times of my young life. The world will only change when we teach our kids how to make this world a better place.