On March 24, 1994, in two stories Bay Windows covered the aftermath of the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law which I worked on in 1993.
The first article was about a protest to a faculty member’s homophobic letter to a school newspaper at Boston Latin High. The second was about a conference at Northeastern University on how to enact the law in schools.
More from Christopher Muther:
A rebuttal to an anti-gay letter published in Boston Latin High School’s student newspaper last month remains in limbo while faculty and students anxiously wait to see if the headmaster allows its publication.
In the February issue of the Argo, Boston Latin teacher Owen O’Malley wrote a letter opposing a story that had appeared in the monthly newspaper in January. The story, reviewing the newly-enacted gay student rights law, detailed the law and also polled students on how they felt about the legislation.
In the following month’s issue, O’Malley wrote into the Argo Forum, first complaining about the nature of the gay student law, which protects public school students against anti-gay discrimination, and then assailing homosexuality.
“Weld and his advisors are in error in promoting homosexuality propaganda in the public schools of the Commonwealth,” he wrote in the letter. “They have no right to use funds and/or public schools and facilities for such questionable and evil causes… the high school students of Massachusetts do not need to waste their time and fill up their minds reading this trash,” O’Malley w rote of the Argo article. “A high school newspaper is not a good forum to discus certain issues anyway. Additionally, the overwhelming number of our students and young people are not homosexual, and would pay little attention to such subjects unless they are imposed on them.”
At the end of his letter, O’Malley lashed out against homosexuality as “a great weakness and sickness.”
“Adults who deliberately engage in homosexual acts are perverse and wicked and extremely dangerous to any society,” O’Malley wrote.
Many students and faculty members said they were offended and angered at O’Malley’s letter. Physics teachers Steven Fernandez said he began a petition among the school’s 140 teachers to let students know that now all teachers feel the same way about homosexuality.
“I was very upset at this article and his point of view,” Fernandez said. “There were some teachers who were shocked at Mr. O’Malley’s statement.”
Fernandez collected 50 signatures on a petition he prepared and submitted the letter to the school newspaper. However, Fernandez said the school’s headmaster has objected to printing the letter in the school newspaper for fear that students will sense a rift between members of the school’s staff.
The headmaster, Michael Contompasis, could not be reached by press time.
“I’m still waiting to see if the letter will get printed,” Fernandez said. “With the studies indicating fairly high levels of depression and suicide among gay teenagers, I think this is something important. It’s a confusing time for a lot of kids, and something like this can make it worse.”
Fernandez has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union to find out if the school has a legal obligation to run the letter. The deadline for Argo submissions was March 18 , and he said expects a decision will be made soon.
The petition signed by 50 teachers reads: “We do not support the sentiments [O’Malley] expressed in the article. As an educational institution, Boston Latin School has the responsibility to teach students to celebrate diversity, rather than fear it. The views expressed in the letter are contrary to these high ideals.”
Although Fernandez is heterosexual, he said he has received threatening letters in his school mailbox for spearheading the petition.
Since the letter appeared in the paper, Fernandez said there have been no assemblies or trainings for staff on awareness of gay and lesbian issues.
“It’s really unfortunate [there have been no assemblies] because the school is conservative in a number of ways,” he said. “There are a large number of gay teachers on the staff, so I find it ironic the school is as conservative as it is.”
Many students at the school, even those who may be uncomfortable with homosexuality, say they were angered by the letter, according to Alejandra St. Guillen, a 17-year-old senior at Boston Latin. She and her friends “felt contempt” for O’Malley after the letter appeared.
“I don’t feel comfortable that a teacher was writing a letter so critical of being gay,” she said. “As a teacher, in a position of authority where students are looking up to him, he is trying to instill his beliefs in us.”
As a science project, St. Gullien recently polled 140 of her fellow students at the 2,500-student public school to find out their attitudes on homosexuality. She found that many students still thought of gay men and lesbians in stereotypical ways, but many did not think that homosexuality is immoral. The responses were distributed evenly along lines of race, religion, sex, and social class, she said.
Brian O’Leary, an openly gay senior at the school, said he thinks O’Malley has the right to express his own opinion, but he should have worded his thoughts in a way that would not be an offense to others at the school.
“As a teacher, he’s supposed to be a role model,” O’Leary said. “It’s outrageous that someone in his position is able to do this.”
He said he thought the letter and petition should be printed in Argo for the same reasons O’Malley’s letter was printed, as a forum to discuss views.
David LaFontaine, head of Governor Weld’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth and the Massachusetts Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, said he thinks Boston Latin should take disciplinary action against O’Malley.
He said if a similar letter were written decrying another minority group, there would be a huge response. He also urged local gay activists to put pressure on the school’s headmaster to take action.