“Great Changes” – Students Come Out at Assembly
By Amanda Douglas:
On March 26th, the school sat in the Jewett Family Theater after a series of announcements during a Monday assembly, when I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross washed over the crowd. Four students ran up the stairs and onto the stage. Freshman Jackson Baum and junior Erin Lockett took their jackets off to show t-shirts with “Bi-sexual” printed across the front; sophomores Francesca Camahort and Clare Sackson revealed t-shirts with the word “Gay” written in rainbow letters. The audience, captivated, read over the shirts while Clare explained that the quartet was coming out. Students and faculty began to clap and soon the entire theater was standing and applauding.
Francesca explained the decision to come out as a group at school: “[W]e thought that it would be best for the community to have a very public, coming-out thing, and we thought it would be best if it was a group doing it because we knew that if one person decided to come out, and they were coming out as an individual to Branson, they’d sort of be…the sort of target gay… the gay messiah.”
While certainly not unprecedented at Branson, it has been unusual in recent years for younger students to come out. “What we had noticed…is students who had come out in the past at Branson came out their senior year, really close to the end,” Francesca said. “For most of us what was notable was that a senior last year came out [during] almost the last possible moment in his Branson career, and we knew that was probably because very few people had come out before, so there wasn’t really an actual community on the campus to be part of.”
Francesca added that the group chose this year in part because they wanted to actually publicly form this community, but also because they had all begun to understand themselves and their sexualities. “I didn’t want to hide that part of my personality anymore,” Clare agreed.
Branson’s QSA, which stands for Queer-Straight Alliance and was formerly known as EGALATE, played a role in the assembly. Clare said, “[W]e were at QSA at the same time and figured [our sexualities] out.” Even though they all decided that they wanted to come out together to the community before telling the club, QSA helped with planning and support. Francesca said, “[The group] put some input into what we should do…and they gave us the support and encouragement that we all sort of felt like we needed… the push that you can do this and it’s gonna go well.”
Lorenzo Yupit-Cordova, who works in the Branson Admissions Office, became an advisor to QSA this year. Beyond the help planning the assembly that, Lorenzo believes QSA’s values, teachings, and ideas played a positive role. “I think having a club like QSA really empowers students to do something really brave and what they did is incredibly brave. It takes a lot of guts to reveal your whole self to the entire school. And it says a lot about our community if they’re willing to do that—that we’re not going to bully them or ostracize them.”
Branson math teacher Ms. Kneass said of the club’s impact on the assembly and community: “With their help along with the Faculty Allies group in opening up the conversations about LGBTQ issues, and changing their name to be more distinct, they’ve made a lot of progress in helping Branson become a much more open community. Being a more open community allows students who are questioning their sexuality to feel more comfortable talking about it and sharing with the people closest to them.”
While the reception was positive, both Francesca and Clare commented on how nerve-wracking it was leading up to the assembly. Francesca said that while there was not a moment where the whole group wanted to cancel the event, individuals were given “time to doubt” because they planned it two weeks in advance. Clare said of her nerves regarding the assembly: “The week before I was getting more and more nervous. It was really terrifying. I didn’t eat the day of.”
Once the day of the assembly arrived, their nerves did not settle. Clare recalled that as students and faculty made announcements, “[we were] sitting in the corner and Erin was almost crying at one point, and I was just standing there shaking.” However, once on stage, Francesca described it as “simple,” taking off their jackets to open up their identities to the community. The immediate reception, a standing ovation, was very warm. Clare described the community’s reaction as “incredible” and Francesca remarked: “It was amazing…It was the best reaction that could have occurred in my opinion…. People sort of swarmed us in this big hug and it was just amazing: this surge of smiling people hugging everyone.”
Both Clare and Francesca agreed that the community’s reaction has carried over into their every-day lives at Branson. Francesca commented on her experience since the assembly: “I haven’t noticed a change in my relationship with people with teachers, friends, or staff…The benefit [is that] people are a little bit more open about talking about these things because we’re visible and QSA’s gotten new members and had more vigorous meetings…It’s so much easier to be out than to be closeted because we can talk about it so openly.” Clare feels the same way: “[It’s] still been really positive. People just treat me the same, and I can just like talk about it, so that’s nice.” Erin commented, “I’d like to say that coming out at Branson has been really nice. Not one person has insulted me ab
out being bi-sexual. Sure, I’ve gotten questions, but nothing out of malice.”
Ms. Kneass shared her perception of the assembly and reaction: “The four students who came out at assembly are very courageous and the standing ovation that the community gave them is a testament to the great support that exists within our community. I feel incredibly thankful to be a part of the Branson community and have been very happy to see such great changes in my time here.”
As Clare and Francesca mentioned, one of the reasons they came out as a group was to create a community on the Branson campus. Lorenzo said, “It kind of shifted our culture toward a very different a place—a place where students are comfortable coming out at assembly to their peers where their peers are going to be very supportive of that.”