To the editor:
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a performance by the Boston Children's Theater titled "Reflections of a Rock Lobster."
I accompanied a group of students who are members of our Diversity Alliance Club at Manchester Essex Regional High School. The performance was simply outstanding, and caused me to reflect on how far we have come in the schools when it comes to embracing all students regardless of color, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference.
Today's school communities have a mindset that supports the mission that everyone is to be treated with the respect that is due to them and thankfully, this way of thinking is reinforced by the law.
The play's cast was made up of a number of teenagers and adult actors whose characters are centered around a story in which a gay high school student wanted to take a male companion to the prom in the spring of 1980.
Aaron Fricke of Cumberland, R.I., became a gay rights poster child when he sued in U.S. District Court for the right to attend his senior prom with a male date. The judge ruled in favor of Fricke and he attended the prom with heavy security and without incident.
This event was certainly cutting edge in the spring of 1980. While in high school, Aaron was taunted and harassed pretty much on a daily basis simply because he was gay.
High schools were a different place than what they are today. We are much better equipped to handle situations like this and we are more accepting of people who don't fit into certain categories. Schools today, generally speaking, are safer and more tolerant places to grow up. Racism and homophobic language are never tolerated.
I once received a phone call a few years ago around graduation time from an uncle of one of our soon-to-be graduates. He told me during our brief conversation that he wanted me to know that he was unable to attend his nephew's graduation because it would stir up too many unpleasant memories of his high school days.
You see, he graduated from then Manchester High School in the early 1980s and was harassed and teased over and over again. He was gay.
I apologized to him and told him that school communities today are far more evolved in their thinking and are open to welcome all people.
In 1980, I was in middle school in Rockport and can remember students using homophobic language directed at students that we found out later were gay. Soon after, I even knew a student who ended up quitting high school his sophomore year because he was tormented by other students because they knew that he was gay. I thought of him as I watched this performance and quite truthfully felt sick to my stomach thinking that he had to endure such unbearable treatment then.
The play tackles relevant issues of bullying, coming out and tolerance, issues that are faced every day in countless high schools across the United States and beyond.
While I found myself disturbed and reflective about when I was in school and the abhorrent treatment of gay students that went on undetected and, or unimpeded by many, I did feel proud that today, we as school administrators, teachers, coaches and other community members do not tolerate that type of language or physical intimidation.
I am thankful that our society has come so far since 1980 when somehow, unimaginably, this was allowed and tolerated and people looked the other way. We must all do everything we can to ensure that this will never happen again.
PAUL F. MURPHY
Manchester Essex Regional High School