Michael Levine, class of 1972, returned to his alma mater Ardsley High School in Westchester, NY through Live Out Loud’s Homecoming Project on February 27. Live Out Loud Homecoming Project Intern Delmar Dualeh attended with Michael and wrote the following reflection:
Attending Michael’s Homecoming Project was truly a special moment. From the moment we entered his alma mater you could see the need for him to return. He had unfinished business to attend to. During the tour of his school, he commented on the numerous changes such as the increase in diversity and infrastructure. He mentioned his discomfort when we walked by the gym and auditorium and some horrible memories resurfaced. I let him know that this time he’s on the other side, he isn’t a student.
Before he started speaking with the GSA, he got emotional; all of his emotions from high school hit him at once. It grabbed the students’ attention and I told him to start when he’s ready. He discussed how the climate was much different in the early 1970s for LGBT people. “We were invisible. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. It wasn’t spoken about at ALL.” Thus, he decided to come out in college, which was also a rough experience for him. He was sexually and verbally harassed by roommates. Later on in college he was lucky enough to have an openly gay roommate that became his main support system. That man showed him about gay life in the city and let him know that being himself was okay. Through that experience, he created a secret LGBT organization at Williams College. His queer leadership and political advocacy led him to pursue a career in law.
In addition, his mother was a huge influence on him being politically aware and active. Though her initial reaction to his sexual orientation was negative and hostile, she came around years later. When she learned to accept Michael, her relationship with his partner was another hurdle to get over. Thankfully, years before she passed away, she created a beautiful relationship with his partner. Once Michael and his partner became domestic partners, he had to fight to create change at his job and labor union to recognize domestic partners for various benefits. He successfully created that change and positive atmosphere for LGBT employees years before the current political climate.
About 20 students attended the event. The school’s principal and vice principal also stopped by, as well as other teachers, alumni, and the GSA adviser. Teachers and students asked questions about his other family members’ reactions and other experiences in the school besides the locker room. He mentioned that his other family members had varying response to him and that besides knowing he was gay, he was a huge nerd and that led to a lot of bullying. While Michael spoke to the students and staff, I couldn’t help but notice the reactions on everyone’s faces; students and staff tearing up when Michael mentioned being harassed in the locker room and college.
Michael and I asked about how the school atmosphere is now and one student discussed how he’s openly gay and besides, in his own words, one small incident (where he was called a “fag”) that he is extremely accepted in the school. We mentioned how everyone has different experiences within the school and home environment, even with this seemingly gay acceptance by the media. The majority of students and teachers said that Ardsley is a safe environment for LGBT students. Everyone thanked him in the end.
When Michael and I were at the train station, on that specific platform, he used to be so insecure and vulnerable. I told him that you’re confident, happy, out, with a partner, you’ve changed so much. He said, “I’m seen now. When I was at Ardsley, I wasn’t celebrated or validated but now I’m seen.” When I left him and got home I sent him a text and said “Michael, you are seen. Thanks for everything”.
There is great power in storytelling – for the LGBTQ community, this is how we collectively support one another. Michael felt that this experience was cathartic, and it really helped him realize that he is seen, validated, and celebrated. In addition, it gave the students hope, inspiration, aspirations, and a new role model. Hearing his story also made me appreciate and realize the importance of being the Homecoming Project Intern for Live Out Loud.