See below for Program Manager Tom Hernandez’s reflection on Gail Wasserman’s Homecoming Project on December 6th, 2013 at Valley Stream HS North in Franklin Square, NY:
As Gail Wasserman walked through the front doors of her alma mater, Valley Stream North HS and peered through the round windows to the gym, she noticed that it was quite a different place from when she graduated over 30 years ago. Most notably, the demographics of the student body had become much more diverse. As we walked through the hallways to meet the Gay Straight Alliance Advisor/School Counselor, Nicole Maier , Gail would stop from time to time to read student work displayed on bulletin boards. As we reached the Guidance Department, Nicole, a third year school counselor who had recently been asked to serve as advisor for the GSA, greeted us. Nicole talked us through the history of the club, explaining that most of the active members of the group had just graduated last year. She is working primarily with 9th and 10thgraders to help establish the new group. She says the school, especially the principal, is very supportive of the GSA. She even confided in us that the principal has expressed that it is his favorite club in the school. Students meet bi-weekly to discuss issues in the school, current events, and social justice issues. The group has even been asked by the Health Department to present workshops on LGBT issues to their peers. Nicole said there was quite a bit of buzz around Gail’s Homecoming Project and that we should make our way to the library where the students would soon be congregating.
As we approached the main room of the library, a few eager students greeted us. They were very personable and seemed excited to begin asking questions and sharing their own stories. Once all 11 students and 2 faculty members had arrived, Gail began sharing her story. She talked about the lack of visibility of LGBT people during her time in high school. No GSA, no talk of same-sex marriage, no positive LGBT role models. She told the students that she had been married twice: once to a man and now to a woman. She then talked about exploring her bisexuality and how she navigated the process. The students seemed particularly interested in hearing how other people responded to her coming out. She talked about her parents’ reactions and how they told her “We just want you to be happy.” Gail expressed that she believes that there is a spectrum of sexual identity and that it is fluid throughout one’s life. She challenged the students to never feel the need to confine themselves to one identity. Rather, she said embrace who you are without having to justify it to anyone else. “Be yourself. And be your best self.”
Gail then talked about meeting her wife, and how they began dating. She talked about her wedding ceremony, and the love she has for her wife.
Students chimed in with questions ranging from “Did you get any unexpected responses when you came out?” to “Can I be your intern?”Gail answered them graciously and then began asking the students questions. “Why are there more girls in this group than boys?” One student explained that there are boys in the school that might be afraid to join the GSA because they might be bullied. Gail also asked the students if there was a stigma attached to being a member of the GSA. One student explained that although she is not gay, she realizes that the community needs allies, just as the African American community needed them during their civil rights movement. This was a powerful moment, and the adults in the room looked at each other with a sense of pride. These are bright students with bright futures. Beyond being bright, they are also brave; trailblazers in a sense. They are leading the next cohort of Gay-Straight Alliance members to a future of support and acceptance at Valley Stream HS North.
As our time drew to a close, the students said “goodbye” and asked us if we would be coming back. Gail said she would like to, and we discussed the possibility of returning later in the year or the following year to address a larger audience.