Posts tagged “high school

Disqualified from High School Contest, Gay Teen Speaks Out

Kearian Giertz is the gay Fullerton, California, 17-year-old who made national news headlines last week, following his disqualification from a school contest for his statement supportive of marriage equality. During an annual rite of passage at his high school, known as the Mr. Fullerton Contest, Kearian was asked, in front of an audience, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?,” and expressed his desire to find his life mate and be legally wed, only to find himself disqualified by a school administrator, who had his microphone cut off.  Upon hearing his story, several elements stood out to me as intriguing.  First, compared to my own angst-ridden life in high school almost 25 years ago, it was refreshing that this young man felt comfortable enough to proclaim his desire to wed another man.  Second, I was impressed by how quickly the high school responded to his disqualification, firmly supporting Giertz’ right to free speech and calling the administrator’s actions inappropriate.  Lastly, I was struck by how, upon being disqualified, instead of reacting with the expected anger and hostility,  the teen and his friends chose a more peaceful option, turning this disqualification into a teachable moment.

Having recently written my own letter to my high school bully, I was curious as to how today’s youth were coping with harassment on campus, as well as in their daily lives, and sat down with Giertz, fellow out-teen Blake Danford, and heterosexual, LGBT-supportive Katy Hall, all friends since 7th grade and now Fullerton Union High School seniors, to discuss what it is like to be out and gay in school, as well as the event which propelled them into the headlines.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:   First, let’s start with you, Blake.  When did you first realize you were gay?

Blake Danford:  I first realized I wasn’t really attracted to girls around 4th grade, but came out as gay in 8th grade to a girl in my English class, who was a lesbian.  Eventually, I told a few others, about 5 people total, but it wasn’t until my freshman year I began telling even more people.

Edwards-Stout: At what point did you tell your family?

Danford:  I came out to my mom in my sophomore year.

Edwards-Stout:  And she’s been supportive?

Danford:  Definitely.  I think it was actually harder for me, as I was expecting her not to be.  It was almost like, “Wait, are you really okay with this?” Her support almost seemed fake to me. My parents divorced when I was three, so I’m still not completely out to my dad’s side of the family, as we don’t see them.  Anything out of the norm is not okay with them.  I’ve had them tell me, directly, that if I ever “became” gay, they’d kill me on the spot.  And I assumed that was how everyone would be, so my mom’s support really threw me.  But I’m really glad her support was genuine.

Edwards-Stout:  Kearian, what about you? Did you always know you were gay?

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Going Beyond “It Gets Better”

I’ve written before about my friend Charles Perez and his NoShame Project, which is attempting to eradicate the shame around being gay.  While the “It Gets Better” campaign tells people that, in time, their lives will indeed improve, NoShame takes it one step further, insisting that there is no shame in being gay in the first place, and it is the larger world around us we need to change.

The NoShame Project now has a revamped website, and I am happy to be one of its first contributors. Check out my post, below, and the NoShame website. Together, we can make a difference and build a more tolerant world where our differences are seen not as divisive, but as complementary.

The Unlikely Bully – Turning Terror into Triumph

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

I still remember the terror I felt, every time I approached the soccer field. It was junior high, a difficult time for all, but for me, it felt even worse.

I’d always known I was gay. Even in kindergarten, just looking at Jeff Hayward’s smile would make me happy, providing boundless energy which would propel me throughout the day. And I knew, intrinsically, that it was alright to feel this way—to love other boys—as everything about it felt completely natural and unforced.

But in junior high, things changed. What I had seen as natural and good suddenly was being labeled as abnormal—detestable, even. While I caught flak from many, and would dodge the verbal taunts at lunchtime, the worst offenders turned out to be fellow members of my soccer team. You’d think that, as team members wanting to win, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman would have supported me, but every day I would face a barrage of insults, some veiled, some not, as we sat on the sidelines.

“Faggot” was spit towards me, with the kind of bile and hatred I could both feel and see, plain on their faces. Whispers and dirty looks on a daily basis would continually unnerve me, affecting both my sense of self, as well as my performance on the field. These questions about my masculinity hovered over me, and I would feel physically ill at the thought of another practice or game.

Somehow, however, I survived. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, keeping myself at a distance from all who would harm me. And, as the phrase goes, it did get better.

In high school, while I went on to be active in theatre and academics, Johnny Shea and Mike Trautman continued to rise socially, becoming the big men on campus that I’d always longed to be. In our junior year, Johnny was even voted onto the homecoming king’s court, and as he took to the field, flashing his charming smile, all I could see was the sneer on his lips when he turned and looked my way.

A short time later, during summer break, word came that Johnny had tried to commit suicide and was in a coma. No one knew what had happened, and he eventually returned to school our senior year, but I could sense something in him had changed.

The following summer, I got another call. Johnny had tried again to kill himself, hanging a noose from the rafters in his garage, and had succeeded. He’d also left behind a note, writing that although he did not like girls, he did not want to like boys.

As difficult as it may be to see at the time, our tormentors often have their own issues, to which we are not privy. Whether they are secretly gay, or filled with self-doubt, or are simply taught at a young age to hate, their anger and animosity is fueled not by us, but from something deep within.

I later learned that Johnny’s buddy Mike had a younger brother who came out as gay, and at our high school reunion, Mike sought me out, attempting to make amends for his past actions.

We all grow. We all have the capacity to change. The question becomes, how do we deal with abuse? Do we let our tormentors corrupt us? Do we turn into them? Do we hide? Or do we call out abuse for what it is, and insist that our lives not fall victim to it?

If you are experiencing harassment, in any form, take advantage of the resources in our community. Seek out a counselor or therapist. Find a support group, in person or online. And make sure that you use the opportunity to better yourself and those around you.

Take control. Don’t let the moment define you. Let it be you that defines the moment.

We can be so much better, if only we try.


A Facebook Guide to the Essential Kergan

This was developed thanks to Facebook, as “25 Random Things” was one of the periodic games people circulate.  A friend, Joe Lupariello, had sent me his list, which was simply terrific — funny, smart, and touching.  Reading his in turn spurred my creativity, and I published this on Thursday, January 29, 2009.

25 random things about me…

1. One of my happiest childhood memories is of my sister and I building a courtroom, complete with witness stand, and putting our baby sitter in it, on trial for being the worst sitter ever. She never returned.

2. While visiting Segovia, Spain, my now-ex proposed to me while walking in the woods beneath the beautiful castle. Before I could even answer, I was hit with an immediate case of diarrhea, with no bathroom around. I should have taken that as the sign that it was…

3. I cast and directed Jack Black in his first two plays at UCLA, where no one else had yet recognized his talent. To me, he’ll always be that 18 year-old little stoner kid.

4. When I want to cry, I watch “Men Don’t Leave.”

5. In high school, one of my best friends got in trouble for dying a hot pink arrow in her short black hair. In protest, my friend David Diaz and I sprayed our hair bright colors for the day with temporary, washable spray. We were such rebels…

6. One of my first professional acting jobs was in a 1981 t.v. movie called “Fallen Angel” starring child star Dana Hill. She played a young innocent lured into the dangerous world of child porn by Richard Masur. At 16, I was so excited to be making a movie! I got to get out of school and shoot at a pinball arcade in the Valley. And in my “big scene”, they shot me playing a pinball game, just behind Dana, who was seated in an auto racing game. Thus, in the shot, due to the angle, you basically have my butt just behind and to the right of Dana’s head. Probably the finest acting of ass cheeks in a t.v. movie that entire year.

7. As a child, more than once, I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s.

8. Years ago, I wrote a mass “coming out” letter, appealing to people to donate to the annual L.A. AIDS Walk, and sent it to over 200 people, everyone I knew–including my parent’s bridge partners.

9. A few years later, unrelated and yet related, my parents sent out their annual Christmas letter, writing the following: “This year, our son moved into a new apartment and likes his job very much.”*

*Please note they do not mention: A) my name, as I had formally changed it and they were none too pleased; B) that I actually moved in with a BOYFRIEND; and C) that I worked at AIDS Project Los Angeles. But other than that–pretty complete, don’t you think?

10. I make a home-cooked meal 5 nights s a week for my three amazing boys (sons Mason and Marcus, and hubby Russ).

11. While a Production Assistant on a low budget flick called “Blood & Concrete: A Love Story”, I was originally supposed to ferry star Billy Zane to/from the set in my car. However, he was so upset when he saw my bright yellow VW bug that he refused to ride in it. Thus, I got stuck picking up Jennifer Beals every day. Despite my best efforts, she wouldn’t talk to me, more than just to say “hello” or “goodbye.” On one day, we shot out in Lancaster, so for over an hour each way, we rode in absolute and utter silence, as my radio was broken. Thanks for the memories, Jen! (more…)