Editorial: At Concord High, a reason for pride
The other day we overheard a conversation among a group of old friends at a Concord sandwich shop. Alumni of the same high school, all in their late 30s or early 40s, they were talking about which of their fellow classmates had turned out to be gay. They weren’t judging – just remarking on whose lives had changed and how. And, they noted, none of those kids, now adults, had talked about their sexuality when they were teens. In some cases, the friends said, they were surprised; in others, not at all.
For anyone who graduated from high school in all but the most recent decade or so, such a conversation no doubt feels familiar. Until recently, high school students who were gay or transgender often hid it from their classmates and the world. Until recently, that sort of minority status routinely subjected teens to teasing, bullying and worse. Until recently it was common to hear even adults speaking disparagingly of people simply because of their sexuality or gender identity.
Times are changing quickly, with perhaps no more joyous evidence than the crowning of Concord High School’s new homecoming king, Ray Ramsey.
Ramsey, elected by his fellow students, is a transgender student. He came out in his junior year but recalls dressing and acting like a boy from a young age.
“It’s a big deal,” Heather Oullette-Cygan, adviser of Concord High’s Tide Pride club told Monitor reporter Kathleen Ronayne. “I think it means a lot for our school; it certainly means a lot for the kids in the club and even the LGBT students who aren’t necessarily in the club.”
Homecoming royalty elections have always struck us as a strangely old-fashioned tradition – a school-sponsored popularity contest. But the notion that a publicly transgender teen could be voted essentially the most popular boy in school – winning in a “landslide,” said senior class adviser Lisa Lamb – is a sign of remarkable progress and a tremendous tribute to the students at Concord High School.
We’re not naive enough to think that one class election is proof that bigotry has vanished among teens or the rest of us. According to the Human Rights Campaign, gay and transgender youth are twice as likely as their peers to report being physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school. Forty-two percent say their community is not accepting of gay and transgender people. Although three-quarters say their peers have no trouble with their identity, nearly all also say they hear negative messages about their sexuality or gender identity – at school, on the internet and among their peers. Many transgender people attempt suicide at least once.
Yet, amid all that, Ramsey has made himself a role model. “He doesn’t fear any of the repercussions of being completely who he is, and that’s one of the most inspirational things about him,” Anna Robert, the Concord High homecoming queen, told Ronayne.
That his classmates see past the label and admire Ramsey for the interesting, talented student he is should be considered equally inspirational.