To the editor:
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a performance by the Boston Children's Theater titled "Reflections of a Rock Lobster." I accompanied a group of students who are members of our Diversity Alliance Club here at Manchester Essex Regional High School.
This outstanding performance caused me to reflect on how far we have come in embracing all students regardless of color, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference. Today's school communities have a mindset that supports the thinking that everyone should be treated with the respect due to them. Thankfully, this way of thinking is reinforced by the law.
The play's cast was made up of a number of teenagers and adult actors. The story involves a gay high school student who wants to take a male companion to the prom in the spring of 1980.
Aaron Fricke of Cumberland, R.I., became a gay-rights poster child when he sued in U.S. District Court for the right to attend his senior prom with a male date. The judge in the case ruled in favor of Fricke, and he attended the prom with heavy security and without incident.
While in high school, Aaron was taunted and harassed pretty much on a daily basis simply because he was gay. The year 1980 may seem a long time ago, but it really isn't when considered in the context of our nation's history. Sadly, at that time, people did not always treat others with the respect all people deserve.
High schools then were a different place than they are today.
We are much better equipped to handle situations like this and are more accepting of people who don't fit into certain categories.
Schools today, generally speaking, are safer and more tolerant places in which to grow up. Racism and homophobic language are never tolerated.
I received a phone call a few years ago around graduation time from the uncle of one of our soon-to-be graduates. He said he couldn't attend his nephew's graduation because it would stir up too many unpleasant memories of his high school days. You see, he graduated from what was then Manchester High School in the early 1980s and was harassed and teased over and over again because he was gay.
I told him I was sincerely sorry that he had been the object of such hatred.
In 1980, I was in middle school in Rockport and can remember students using homophobic language directed at students we found out later were gay. I even knew a student who ended up quitting high school his sophomore year because he was tormented by other students who knew he was gay.
I thought of him as I watched the performance in Boston and felt sick to my stomach recalling what he had gone through. The play tackles relevant issues of bullying, coming out and tolerance — issues that are faced every day in countless high schools across the United States and beyond.
I am proud that today, we, as school administrators, teachers, coaches and other community members, do not tolerate that type of language or physical intimidation. I am thankful that our society has come so far since 1980.
Paul F. Murphy
Manchester Essex High School