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THE FORGOTTEN MEMBER

The Forgotten Member of “The Breakfast Club”: The Gay High School Student

Michael A. Nosal
Professor Jackson
English 1
March 18, 2010
THE FORGOTTEN MEMBER

The Forgotten Member of “The Breakfast Club”: The Gay High School Student

High School is a proverbial melting pot of teenaged youth coming into their own

identities and beliefs. Upon entering high school, the freshman student is transported into a realm

full of judgment and ridicule, acceptance and isolation. Many children have problems

acclimating into high school, either socially or academically. Sometimes, students feel the

pressure from both. With the addition of the pressures from home, the ability to cope with the

stress associated with high school can sometimes take its toll and students tend to drop out. In

John Hughes’ movie, “The Breakfast Club”, we were shown the different types often seen while

in high school. The film taught us that the homecoming queen, the jock, the brain, the basket

case and the criminal each had their own problems that plagued their high school lives. The film

helped the youth of nineteen eighty-five deal with feeling out of place and misunderstood. The

only student type that was not portrayed in this film was that of the gay student and the problems

they endure. I am, as well as others like me, that forgotten member of the “breakfast club”. From

my own experiences as a gay high school student in the eighties, along with interviews of both

straight and gay friends on their lives in high school, to articles on how gay students are in need

of acceptance, I will show how each group has similar experiences but how the gay student has

the added burden of fear in an already anxiety-riddled environment and explain the importance

of recognizing gay support groups for high school students and how they could help in the

reduction of the nation’s dropout rate.

Personally, I find the whole concept of dropping out of high school strange. I never
thought that to be an option. I had gone to three high schools from nineteen eighty-three through

nineteen eighty-seven. Not once did the idea of leaving school enter my head. I guess I felt a

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sense of duty to see it through. Mine was a case of distinctive circumstances upon entering my

freshman year at General McLane High School in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. Prior to high school,

my family was living in Richmond, Virginia for most of my young life. In the closing months of

eighth grade, my father moved up to Erie, Pennsylvania for a job. My mother, who had been

promised there would be no major moves after the family picked up and left friends and family

in Allentown, Pennsylvania to come to Richmond in nineteen seventy-eight, had had enough and

filed for divorce. My sister and brother decided to stay with her. Knowing that something wasn’t

“quite right” with me and with the prospect of starting with a clean slate in a new town was

extremely tempting; I moved to be with my dad. So, now I was the only child under my father’s

care during a bitter divorce. I am the youngest of my siblings and with the divorce and

relocation; I no longer had the stigmata of being Terri-Anne or Mark’s “kid brother”. This was

both liberating and horrifying to me. All of these emotions from the divorce and its consequences

bombarded me like a hurricane. At the center of the storm, was my growing awareness of my

sexuality.

For years I had been teased and called names, but just shrugged it off as kids being mean. Now,

the terror that they had been right haunted my thoughts and I constantly had to keep myself in

“check”. I did not want my secret to be known. The only gay role models I knew of were

Liberace and Rip Taylor, and I didn’t want the association with them. I felt I had the cards

stacked against me. I could draw and was in the school play. I was feeling the stereotype of the
“faggot”. I tried to fit in as much as I could. I did my best to counteract any perceived notion of

my sexual preference. My fear of discovery was so deep that I actually had sex with a girl to

prove to her I wasn’t gay. I was fourteen and she was fifteen. She became pregnant. My father

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moved us away and I never saw her again. All these things going on in my life and I had to

study and get good grades? I felt burdened and alone. I might have dropped out if my father was

not as abusive as he was. Home life was definitely taking a nasty turn and I had nobody. As a

kid, I wanted to be an only child. As a transplanted gay teen, I wanted my family back. Then I

entered my junior year at Peter’s Township and something changed.

The school itself wasn’t that impressive, it was who occupied it that I will always

remember. From fellow students to faculty, I felt a little more comfortable. I met quite a few

people who were “odd” or “strange”; but they clearly didn’t care. I gravitated to them and, even

though I would never disclose my sexuality, was part of the “gang”. There was one other aspect

behind this high school. This school was located thirty miles south of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Being so close to such a metropolitan area was somewhat beneficial. The art departments,

performing, visual and even literary, were more involved and advanced. The teachers that headed

each one were helpful and supportive. While Miss Hamilton and Mrs. Graff were great in

helping develop my literary and artistic skills respectively, it was Mr. Wood from Performing

Arts class that had a real impact. Mr. Wood was gay. Not only was he gay, he was a teacher and

he was liked by many of his students. He was the first gay person I ever met. I think he knew I

was, but could sense I was struggling with it. He was encouraging and terrifying at the same

time. There were times when I would be showing the different posters that I was doing for
various plays and he would have this expression on his face that the voice in my head would

whisper, “He knows!” I did my best to keep my secret safe. There was a freshman at school that

was “out” and was teased and bullied mercilessly. He was a member of the Thespians, just like

me, and he knew my “deal” from day one. He would flirt with me always and I felt threatened

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that he would expose my homosexuality to others, so I was the meanest, most evil bastard to this

poor soul. I hated myself for it, but I had an image, I mean secret, to keep. I had a girlfriend in

my junior year, but I broke it off and told her it was because of her over-protective brother. That

was just luck that that happened. She wanted to get more “serious” and I was terrified. I thanked

God that night for giving her a jerk for a brother. I even went to the prom with a girl I knew in

school and whom I rode the bus home with. Then there was Denis H. He was in my English class

and was on the football team and swim team. He was artistic, like me. He was also in the closet. I

really liked him. He would pass me notes about how he felt and I would sneak him over to my

house to fool around. I guess we were boyfriends, but we were both so closeted it was hard to

tell. I was so confused and scared at this new relationship. I didn’t know what would be worse,

my father’s reaction that I was gay and had a boyfriend, or that I was gay and had a black

boyfriend. I would lay awake at night afraid of discovery. My new stepmother’s family was very

Catholic, so the whole “wrath of God” thing was added into the mix of my homosexuality. I

actually prayed for God to end my life. I would lie there and wonder what it would be like if I

never existed. I had thoughts of killing myself down in the basement with my father’s many

extension cords. I thought if I were dead, nobody would care. I would then think of my mom,

who I hadn’t seen since summer of my freshman year, and cry myself to sleep. My home life
went into a downward spiral. My stepmother began to show her true colors in regards to me. I

was getting in her way. Then things just got weird. Most teenagers are allowed to hang out and

spend time with their friends. I could not even have friends come over. I think this was in part of

my father’s increasing schizophrenia. He did not want “them” to know where “we” were. It soon

got to the point where living with my father and his twenty-eight year old wife was too much. I

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found my mother and asked if I could move back to Richmond and she quickly said yes. By this

time I was so lost and confused that I spent my weekends down the street from my mom’s,

smoking pot and drinking heavily with my brother’s friends. I was out of control, but my mother

didn’t see it. I really didn’t let her. I showed her want she wanted to see: Michael, her youngest

child, the child that could do no wrong. She was just glad to have her baby boy back in her life

again. Still in defense mode from my father’s abusive nature, I could not open up to her. I was on

a path of self-destruction. All I had achieved up to that point was gone. My acceptance to

Edinboro University and my pursuit of college was like a dream that was being forgotten. I had

to give that up since my dad would not help anymore because of “them”. I had returned to the

place of my youth, but four years had passed and it felt completely different. I reconnected with

some of my middle school friends, but it just wasn’t the same. I had nobody to talk to and I

didn’t have my “boyfriend” anymore. I became reckless. It got to the point that, at seventeen, I

was letting strange men pick me up to have sex with. Sometimes safe, but most of the times, it

was not. I was lucky that the worst thing I caught during that time was a cold. Through it all, I

still managed to receive my diploma that hot June morning with my fellow students at Hermitage

High School in Richmond. I wished it could have been with my friends in Mcmurray, but that
was not how fate planned it. That I managed to complete high school and graduate when I was

supposed to is a fact I am proud of. Others are not so lucky and end up dropping out. I asked a

number of people, some I went to school with, others I did not, about their experiences and was

surprised that many of them felt they didn’t fit in.

Fellow high school student, D. Hornung (personal communication, March 4, 2010) left

school at the end of her junior year and graduated early because “I really think I was in too much

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of a hurry to get to the next stage of my life. I hated the PT (Peter’s Township) thing—that stuck

up, privileged sort of mentality. Plus there was a lot of tension at home, and I wanted out of that

situation.” Many times people drop out from the stress at home, but sometimes it is affairs of the

heart that make school too much to bear. As M. Kingcaid (personal conversation, March 8, 2010)

explained,

“I had huge social problems and was harassed about 63% of the time both in and out of

school. Making friends proved difficult due to a devastating need of confidence. I tried to

fit in, but I thought something was wrong with me. I met a girl in Science class, and she

showed interest in me…I tried to be positive and romance her the best way I could, but

failed repeatedly. Guess I was too shy (…) the school broadcasted a message during gym

class explaining that she had been killed in a car accident. I was devastated and gave up

on high school because I couldn’t deal with the loss. I did not know how to express my

feelings to anyone. I just kept it bottled up and decided to stay away from high school.

Thankfully, I did end up getting at least a GED. I just couldn’t take it. She was the first

person I cared about and never got to tell her how much.”
It is testaments like this where we see that all young people have issues that can make high

school difficult to see through to the end. There are counselors in high school to help and assist

troubled teens with their problems, from communication barriers with parents to the tragic loss

of a first love. However, gay teens are afraid to go to their counselors because they may not

understand or react in a harmful way. As S. Nason (personal conversation, February 10, 1991)

clarified, “I went to my guidance counselor and told him I was gay because I felt attracted to

other men. My counselor told me that it was just a phase and to forget about it. When I got home,

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my mother sat in the living room crying and my father had my suitcase. My counselor called and

told them about our meeting. They threw me out.” There are too many stories like this occurring

across the country involving the gay high school student. The terror of being abandoned and

ostracized from everyone can be quite intimidating. There are no real outlets for these

misunderstood children. Their self-esteem is easily shattered and depression may set in and the

gay student may decide to leave school. 28% of gay and lesbian high school students in a

national study were seen to have dropped out of school because of harassment resulting from

their sexual orientation (Youth Pride, Inc, 1997). Unfortunately, dropping out is not the only

concern surrounding these students. With continued isolation and the feeling of not being seen in

a predominately “straight” environment, suicide is often contemplated.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are at a higher risk for depression and have higher rates

of suicidal ideation and attempts compared to other teens (and) approximate 28.1 percent

of gay and bisexual males in middle and high school have attempted suicide, as have 20.5

percent of bisexual and lesbian females. (Suicide, 2010)


Assistance for these troubled souls is desperately needed. Many strides have been achieved since

I was in high school. With the help of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union

(ACLU), Youth Pride, Inc (YPI), Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (LLDEF), and

even the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT), gay students have a better chance

at having a better high school experience. We need to be vigilant in the pursuit of keeping gay

high school students safe. YPI has made this even more possible by developing a booklet called

Creating Safe Schools for Lesbian and Gay Students: A resource guide for

school staff. In the introduction, they state their purpose.

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Homophobia interferes with the health development of all young people, particularly

those who are dealing with issues of sexual orientation. One of the many places gay and

lesbian youth feel the effects of homophobia is within their schools. This booklet is

designed to not only give school staff many valuable resources, but also to provide

practical suggestions for helping to reduce homophobia within our schools, The ultimate

goal is to ensure the safety of all students. (YPI, 1997)

This booklet is an excellent guide for any school protocol in regards to handling the issue of

homosexuality within the student body. It is a step-by-step reference tool full of contacts, support

groups and recommended reading to alleviate the anxiety prevalent with such a complicated

topic as homosexuality in school. There is even a section for students on forming a Gay/Straight

Alliance or GSA.

It is with these GSA’s that a better understanding and support of the gay student can be

achieved. Sadly, as the OCRT has pointed out in their article Gay and lesbian support
groups in U.S. public high schools (2000-2003), there is still resistance. Even though

these clubs are meant to help and teach acceptance among gay and straight teens, many school

boards inhibit their formation. “(A) common technique of school boards is to delay decisions

until the end of the school year in the hopes that the problem will simply go away” (OCRT,

2000-2003). However, both the ACLU and LLDEF are in the forefront fighting for the rights of

the children. “ The trend in schools is to recognize that gay-supportive student groups promote

better and safer schools” (D. Bucket, October 6, 2000). What our society fails to realize or

acknowledge that opposition leads to more intolerance and the possibility of violence. Local

radio personalities in Alaska made derogatory remarks about a GSA in a local high school and

started controversy and

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debate. A local resident wrote to the editor of his newspaper to voice his concern and opinion.

“The venom that has been spewing forth on local radio stations concerning students who wish to

be associated with the Gay/Straight Alliance at Dimond High School is positive proof of the

absolute need for such a club” (S. Williams, 1997).

It appears that we still have a way to go to ensure a less hostile existence within the halls

of high school. We seem to be able to accept all other types of characters in the dichotomy that is

the student body. There are students dropping out and killing themselves because they can no

longer deal with the scorn that their sexual preference attracts. It is senseless and unnecessary for

this reaction to occur. The one thing any of us want out of high school is to feel accepted. Times

have changed since I was an awkward teen, scared and terrified of the ramifications of discovery.

If there had been a club for gay students to meet, would I have had the courage to “come out” at
that time? That I will never know. What I do know is that I would not have felt alone in my

circumstance. Students drop out for a myriad of reasons. Most of which are beyond the help of

the school and its staff. Being gay is not one of them. By teaching and practicing acceptance and

tolerance towards gay teens in school, we can reduce to dropout rate by twenty-eight percent.

Then the gay student can finally take his or her rightful place at the table of “The

Breakfast Club”.

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References

Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (2010). Suicide. Retrieved from

http://www.massgeneral.org/children/adolescenthealth/articles/aa_suicide.aspx

Robinson, B.A. (2003). Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in public schools: Attempts

to organize

GSAs. Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_psgr2.htm

Wood, T. (1997). Creating safe schools for lesbian and gay students: A resource

guide for

school staff. Retrieved from http://www.members.tripod.com/~twood/guide.html