By Jeff Walsh, Oasis Editor
School is slowly becoming a better place for queer and questioning youth. With the $900,000 settlement against a public school for not protecting Jamie Nabozny as a harassed gay student, teachers will now most likely be a little more supportive. And last year, many same-sex couples even attended their proms without incident.
Jacob Eiler did part of that. He took a male date to his school prom. It's the "without incident" part he didn't have.
Eiler had been open about his sexuality in school since he was 12. He had done speaking engagements as a queer youth, was featured in newspaper articles, and wants to live his life openly and honestly.
And, since he had a boyfriend when the prom rolled around, he naturally wanted to go. He didn't plan to make a big deal about it. He was just planning to show up, with a guy, and enjoy his prom. What he got was national media exposure, a vandalized car and an outraged, albeit estranged, family.
His date was, and is, firmly entrenched in the closet, which added some more drama to the story. The couple has since broken up, but are still friends. Even with all the media, his date, who was from a different town, was able to stay in the closet, thanks to a few words to the media from Eiler's lawyers.
"The news media were not allowed in prom, just outside the prom. So, they got pictures of us, they just didn't shoot his face," he said. "There weren't any recognizable photos of him. He was kept really anonymous. I, on the other hand, wasn't."
But everything went out of control when Eiler told a few friends at school that he was planning to bring a guy to the prom.
"Things spread like wildfire. I told a couple of friends and someone overheard me and they told their friends and then everybody knew. This was like a week before prom. No one was supposed to know except the few people I told," he said. "And, so, then, one morning I woke up. It was the day before the prom, and I went out to my car and the car was sitting really funky. So, I went over and looked at it and the word 'fag' was carved in my car with a key and then I saw that all that all the tires were slashed and the slashes were like three-inches long and my car was just destroyed.
"So, I went in and called the police and I didn't know that police reports were public access information. They are. So the news stations got a hold of it. That's how they found out," he said. "They already knew who I was through news articles I'd done in the past. They talked to some people and found out why my tires were slashed and then they wanted to do a story. The news stations were calling left and right, the newspapers were calling. So, I walked to school, told my principal what happened and said 'I'm taking the day off,' like it was a job or something. He understood and he said 'OK, go ahead.'"
Eiler first called his lawyers, to see how he should proceed with his prom only one day away.
"I was scared at that point, because I didn't know if I was going to be able to go to prom or not. I called the mayor of Alexandria and talked to him about what happened," he said. "And I called the mayor of Anderson, because he and I are pretty good friends and I asked him if there could be some extra patrolmen around prom that night, because our prom was in Anderson. So, I got things taken care of.
"What made everything perpetuate was one news station called, an ABC affiliate, and I said 'Yes, I'll let you have an interview, but you can't shoot my face and it has to be really short.' They came out, and talked me into doing a longer interview and a lot of face shots. Me showing them my tires and me poking my fingers in the holes of my tires. After that aired, and it aired on the five o'clock news, then everyone started calling me because they wanted the story, too. The story got picked up by the Associated Press and got sent out all over the nation."
One place Eiler couldn't turn to for support in all of this frenzy was to his family.
"I came out to myself when I was 12 and to some friends. I told my parents when I was 16, and I was living with my mom at the time and she freaked out and kicked me out," he said. "So, I moved in with my father and then he found out and threw me out. I've been living pretty much on my own since I was 16. It's hard at times.
"The only time my mom talks to me is when she calls me up and tells me how much of a fag I am," he said And my dad doesn't allow me to come on his property."
But things got even worse once his family started seeing the media reports.
"I wasn't even thinking about the repercussions that were going to come back on my family. They threw me out and didn't want anything to do with me," he said. "I knew what could happen to me, and that did bother me. By that time, everyone knew I was gay anyway. It wasn't some big surprise.
"My grandmother called me crying and asked me 'why are you doing this to your family, you're embarrassing all of us.' My mom would call me cussing and falling me an f'ing faggot and a queer and telling me I'm going to burn in hell," he said. "I talked to my therapist about a lot of things, because I think it's good to have a therapist to talk through these things, especially when you've going through as much stress as I've gone through.
"I've agreed with my therapist that I'm going to live my life the way I'm going to live my life. And it doesn't matter if your my mom, my grandmom, my best friend, my pastor, I'm going to live how I'm going to live. There are things in life that I can't change, like my sexuality," he said. "But, if I'm going to be gay, I'm going to make the best out of that. I'm going to go ahead and be the spokesperson that I think I need to be for the gay, lesbian, bisexual teen community, and make sure we get what we deserve."
But Eiler still tries to reconcile with his family. His mother now lives four blocks away from him.
"Every now and then, I try to go over to her house and say hi, because my brother and sister still live with her. I have a brother who is 16 and a sister who is 12. I can talk to them. They're cool, they're fine, they don't care. But my mom is always really cold," he said. "She doesn't want me to stay very long. She wants me to get away from them and every time I go over, she's like right there by me telling me how bad a person I am and how I'm going to burn in hell and I'm not right. When I call my dad, he hangs up. I went over there once and he called the police on me."
Eiler first started coming out to his classmates when he was 12.
"I told some friends and they were 'yeah, right, whatever, you don't know what you're talking about.' And it took a while for it to sink in, because I wasn't the stereotypical gay person in middle school or high school," he said. "So, then I started knocking friends off one by one, telling them, and I lost some friends and gained some friends. Most of my friends were pretty cool, but once I got to high school and people started telling other people, it got really bad.
"I went to Anderson High School for two years, and then I went to the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities. And then, when my mom tried to commit suicide, I had to leave and go to Alexandria Monroe High School. When I was at Anderson High School, it was pretty much verbal harassment. Anderson is a big school, so everyone keeps to themselves," he said. "But at Alexandria, the school is only 400-500 students, as compared to 5,000 at Anderson. So, it was like wildfire there. People were just like, 'Hey, this kid's gay.' I was spit on in the halls, thrown against lockers, called every name imaginable -- 'pillow biter,' 'fudge packer,' 'faggot,' 'queer.' I got swung at in the halls, people acting like they were going to hit me. I finally got sick of it and got a couple attorneys. They called the principal and told him he had to protect me. It got a little better after that. I didn't get spit on or swung at anymore."
Amazingly enough, the media attention Eiler gained during the prom ended the harassment. That's not to say he was accepted after the prom.
"Everything got a lot better at school because no one would even talk to me. They didn't even want to look at me, because they were really embarrassed that I had taken a guy to prom in our small, close-knit community," he said. "I guess they didn't want anything to do with me, even make fun of me, which was great. I loved it."
Eiler first inquired about being gay when he was nine.
"I have four gay cousins, and I always felt really drawn to them. I don't know why. So, when I was about nine, I went to one of my lesbian cousins. I knew she was different because the family hated her guts, but I didn't know why. So, I just asked her 'Is it wrong to like boys?' and she said 'No.' And I said, well, okay. That was the end of the discussion," he said. "It was really quick, but really serious. After she said no, I said, this is cool. I can like boys. A few years went by, and I realized I really do like boys. Everyone else was going out with girlfriends and going to movies. And I didn't want to go out with girls.
"At 12, I wasn't really into the gay community yet, even though I was out. Then, my biggest reason for coming out was that I met the boy of my dreams in seventh or eighth grade. We went to the same church and he was in my youth group. So, we started talking and the pastor was preaching on homosexuality one day," he said. "And, he came back to my house after church. He was six feet tall, a big boy for 13. He came over and we were talking about it, and we went out on my porch, and talking about how we didn't think it was as bad as they said it was. And we didn't think that gay people were going to burn in hell. We didn't come out to each other yet. He asked me if I had ever been attracted to a guy, and I was like 'Yeah.' And he told me he was attracted to me, and I was like 'Whoa, this is really cool,' because I was attracted to him, too.
"So, we came out to each other, and after that, I started coming out to everyone," he said. "When I was 14, though, I tried to go out with girls and it didn't work. I should've just stuck with guys. I was confirmed gay. I just have no sexual or emotional attraction to women. They're cool friends, though.
Eiler's life shows no signs of slowing down, either. A movie is being made about him, although he can't discuss it. He plans to go to Indiana University and double major in psychology and nursing, and he plans to eventually work in a veterans hospital dealing with patients who have post war syndrome.
Eiler has already encountered some problems with being so vocal about gay issues while working at a hospital.
"I just got fired from my job. I was a CNA/RNA/QMRP at a hospital , which is a Certified Nursing Assistant, Restorative Nursing Aide, Qualified Mental Retardation Pathologist. That title took me about eight months to get with some classes," he said. "My administrator came to me and asked me not to be so vocal, and I told him to stick it. I told him I wasn't going to closet myself at work and then about two weeks later, I found out that ... I hate saying this, because it's not even true. It's morbid to even think about ... my boss told me that someone had caught me molesting one of my patients, which never happened."
Eiler's patients were all women and his lawsuit with the hospital is probably the next thing we'll be hearing from him, unless the hospital opts for a quiet settlement.
"They're not going to screw me over, hell no. They either give me a settlement or we're going to fight in court for a long time," he said.
Update (Posted 6/6/06): Jacob is currently going to school pursuing a bachelor's degree and consulting. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is available for speaking about the above incident, as well as about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. His website is http://www.jacobeiler.net/.
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