I am a queer graduate of an elite Catholic high school. And I am tired of the homophobia.

Views Joseph Larson / July 6, 2023 Print this:
Photo courtesy of Pexels/Polina Zimmerman

I have been waiting in the lower gym forever, thinking I might as well end up sleeping here at this point. My high school’s open-house tours have begun, and I’m waiting along with many others for the tour to reach its final destination as the people spill out into the club and teacher sections of the basement.

I get flashbacks to when I attended my school’s open house, when I was searching for a high school a few years ago. I’m excited to talk to people about my school and why I love it. Even though it can be stressful, and even though I encounter those who cannot stand to see others succeed and be different, I have confidence that my school helped make me who I am today.

I hear the murmur of a distant crowd rise up, slowly growing into a roar as they descend down the stairs. I go to my table with my friend, straighten up the rainbow flag and look toward the door.

The crowd runs almost like water, spreading throughout the room, but not to our table. No one comes by. At first, I’m indifferent, thinking that the crowd is just nervous being here. I remember being nervous to talk to people at the open houses I visited. I understand, or at least I thought I did.

I have so much confidence that my school helped make me who I am today.

I see people talking with ease to the other clubs: the Speech and Debate Team, the Science Olympiad, the Aquatic Science Club. That’s when I notice the stares. I can tell what they mean. It’s not a blank stare: their faces contort, bending and twisting in ways to show displeasure. I guess it’s worth the wrinkles. No one comes by in the first two waves of completed tours.

One of my teachers walks by, asking if we’ve talked to anyone yet. When he hears no one has, he remarks in a jokingly sad way that no one has visited him either, so he hasn’t made any friends. He makes me feel better about myself. For just a moment, the rubber bands that feel like they are tightening around me loosen until he walks away.

“So what exactly is this?” someone remarks.

What a remarkably odd question. How can you see a gigantic rainbow flag and poster board with smaller rainbow flags glued to it and not know what this is? He was standing there for a minute or two, off to the side, confused before he asked that question. I wonder if he was confused about what the club actually was or if he was just confused it was allowed to exist at my Jesuit, all-boys school.

Maybe he saw me giving him a quick glance and then felt like he had to say something so it wasn’t too awkward. Before I can ponder his ignorance, I remember that my school’s “model student” would smile and do what he was asked to do. I give him a quick explanation of the club. He awkwardly says something and goes on with his night. That interaction is one of the most polite.

A mom walks by and stares before tapping her husband on the shoulder. He stares too. You can tell what makes the stares cynical through the body language: they’ll slow down as they walk, putting too much pressure on themselves to look natural. They don’t look at the table until it is almost out of their line of sight. It is a look of righteous disgust.

A woman pulls her son towards herself and away from the table as they walk by, with her grip releasing after they pass by our table. I guess she’s scared that we’ll damage them somehow if they are within arms reach of us. One man stares me up and down, making it a point to sternly look into my eyes. I’m uncomfortable, I’m objectified and I’m the cause of his disgust.

I fake a smile, something I’ve become increasingly good at as the night has progressed, and I go get water in the gym, seeing how none of the sports tables or academic departments are receiving the stares I have.

My friend and I make jokes, imitating their homophobic actions. We laugh. I can’t say why he’s laughing, but I laugh so I don’t start to cry.

One prospective student slows before coming to a complete stop. His face squints and contorts, before shaking side to side violently as he walks away. Or their smiles disappear into blank oblivion as they walk by, just to have them reappear when they make it past us. After asking me what my club was, one mother laughs awkwardly and sidesteps to the club next to me, mumbling erratically.

I wish I was sitting at the chess club table across the gym. I notice more and more people not only misshaping their faces but their entire bodies as well; many people twist their shoulders and upper body so that we are not in their line of sight. My friend and I make jokes, imitating their homophobic actions. We laugh. I can’t say why he’s laughing, but I laugh so I don’t start to cry.

I take a stool from the engineering table so I can finally sit down. I’ve been standing, trying not to crumple from the weight that I feel being a queer student in the context of an elite, Jesuit, all-boys school. The person whose stool I took it from comes over, looking at me disapprovingly, half joking. Before he can speak, I say, “Please. I’ve had so many people stare in disgust. Let me have the stool.”

I hear the slurs and I feel the way people transform when I say there’s a meeting of my school’s LGBTQ affinity group I need to attend.

He’s surprised by my statement. I’m not. I realize how pathetic I must appear, seeking pity so I can sit on a stool. But I don’t care how I look right now. At least this way, the stares continue while I’m seated.

One man comes up to us asking how it “honestly” is for us. I say it’s tough sometimes, but the good outweighs the bad, and how the homophobes are in the minority at my school. I’m more and more unsure of the words as the days go by. He says how it’s such a good thing and an improvement from when he went to high school in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I can’t imagine how, I think to myself.

I feel uncomfortable in certain resource centers because I know if teachers see the tab for my school’s LGBTQ affinity group on my laptop I’ll be looked at differently. I feel uncomfortable around certain classmates that find my “lifestyle” innately sinful and wrong. I feel uncomfortable because I hear the gay insults. I hear the slurs and I feel the way people transform when I say there’s a meeting of my school’s LGBTQ affinity group I need to attend.

One time, a classmate told me my eyes sparkled and the teacher said to tone it down. I also hear teachers say how students cannot say “homosexual” or “bisexual” because it’s outdated language, which to me just shows how there are serious flaws in how to discuss my existence. Of course, I do not want my existence to be defined by my sexuality, but it would be nice if part of it were not considered a dirty word.

Obviously, it isn’t all the teachers and all of the students that make it difficult to be queer at my school, but I hate how some people use that excuse and then act like the problem doesn’t exist. I also hate the connotation that people should somehow be proud of the progress. Just because we progressed from a horrific place to a terrible one now doesn’t mean we need to be grateful and celebrate it. 

I feel uncomfortable around certain classmates that find my “lifestyle” innately sinful and wrong. I feel uncomfortable because I hear the gay insults.

A mom approaches us. She goes on a long speech about how awesome it is that we are here, and about how she wants her son to know about all of these different things related to LGBTQ topics. It’s a nice sentiment, a bit over the top with a hint of a savior complex, but I’d rather have aggressively and ignorantly nice than the revolting crap I’ve received all night.

“You guys are so brave,” she says, trying to use her most compassionate smile. Her hand reaches for my shoulder. I recoil, desperately trying to not spasm with a panic attack that might have reached its final straw. “Thank you so much,” I respond.

I don’t want people to say I’m brave. I don’t want people to say they see me. I want change. The truth is I’m not brave for being what I am, I simply am what I am. I’m not brave because I desperately want to run from here and go home. I’m not brave, but it’s another thing people assume when they see me sit in front of a rainbow flag. They assume I’m gay, but I’m not. You can tell I’m not brave, especially when I announce sexuality and my voice softens and bends like it may break.

Having an offhand mention at one assembly in my time here isn’t enough. I’m fed up. My friend is fed up. We leave ten minutes later. I say good night to the teacher from earlier. Even he can’t relieve my anxiety now.

“There’s a rat,” I say as we walk towards the subway. We were talking about how terrible the open house was. I’m desperately trying to think of anything else, anything at all. My friend is silent. I then realize something. I can’t think of anything else.

“You know what I just noticed?”


“I looked at that rat better than anyone tonight looked at us.” We walk down the filthy subway steps and into the station.

A couple walks up to us on the platform. They ask us if we go to my school. Their faces lit up with some kind of eager excitement as they mention a school with a prestigious reputation. I’m tired of this question. I’m not the mode student that appears to be appreciated and praised, nor one that is encouraged. The couple should ask someone else.

I don’t want people to say I’m brave. I don’t want people to say they see me. I want change.

I thought getting on the honor roll in junior year might change that thought. I thought that winning the sports intramurals tournament might change that thought. I was wrong. This type of wrong doesn’t feel like when I’d fail a biology test wrong. This wrong feels worse, like the wrong when I was called sexist for my sexuality, the wrong I felt when I was called a f— in the cafeteria.

“Yes, I’m a senior,” I tell the couple. They speak to us effortlessly, treating us like I saw all of my friends at other tables treated. When the rainbow flag isn’t behind me, the attitude shifts. They ask questions about the college process, inquiring about how we like our school. I lie.

“I’m ahead of the game,” I say. “I love my school,” I say. I hate this. I get on the subway with my friend. We stand in silence, numb. I wonder if I’ll feel anything else but numbness. 

Joseph Larson

Joseph Larson is an undergraduate student in psychology at Loyola University Maryland and a graduate of a Jesuit high school in Manhattan.

All articles by Joseph Larson

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  1. Thank you for this very candid piece. It gave me a deeper understanding of how people in the LGBTQ+ community are experiencing the world today.

    I’m a mom (of adult children) and have done some advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community. I thought about my mom counterpart in the piece who swooped in with platitudes and pity, and asked myself if in any advocacy I’ve done I’ve taken away agency or turned into victims those whom I think I’m supporting. I hope not, but you’ve given me something very important to think about for the future.

    Some may ask why you continue to support an institution that is populated with those who so openly disdain you. I think about why I don’t leave a Church that refuses to face new understandings of human experience and a more expansive reading of the Gospels. Whether it’s worth the effort to bring the Church not to “new” truth, but to more complete truth. This from Richard Rohr sustains me: “You can only reform things long-term by unlocking them from the inside by their own chosen authorities.”

    We’ll get there. Again, thank you for this piece and all your efforts.

  2. I worked as an Armed School Resource Officer for a K-8 Catholic School in Las Vegas. My mission on a daily basis for 12 hours a day was to come in front of any threat to students or staff on Campus the Parish or surrounding areas. Nothing was going to get to my cherished students or staff. I am a Gay man who always maintained my professionalism and also guarded the Mass all day Sunday as we were an open Parish. I sensed I was beloved by all who saw me in their midst. I never revealed I was Gay as I didn’t want to be an activist at work. I was also a witness to how Clergy and Staff treated LGBTQ+ students and was proud 👏 of them for their mercy,kindness and Love to all these children of God. I saw the challenge of a Trans girl 8th grader walk the graduation stage in her hairstyle, make up , heels 👠 and outfit of her choice to get her diploma from her 70 years old Pastor in the sanctuary. Then join her classmates for grad pics and celebration on the church patio and breezeway. This student went on to the only Catholic High School in the diocese. I know long post. But I have seen the Lord Jesus Christ 🙏 at work in the Catholic Church. As intoned Dr.Martin Luther King and President Barack Hussein Obama ” The Arc of Justice ⚖️ is Long but it bends inexorably toward Justice”

  3. God bless you, Joseph. My heart ached when I read your article, and yet I was encouraged because you were allowed to have a table. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and homophobes were allowed to assault anyone they simply suspected were gay right there in school halls. The assailants were never disciplined or even scolded. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to see that 70 years later we have only moved the breadth of a gnat’s eyebrow. I’m moved to pray, “how long oh Lord?”

  4. Sorry that you had to go through these experiences. It’s been a while since I walked away from the Catholic Church, its institutions, and their unrelenting reminders of pervasive, deliberate homophobia, at times violent.
    Sadly I ended up walking away from any church for many years. Don’t let it get to that point. Eventually I visited the Episcopal Church and realized what the Catholic Church should have been all along if it weren’t filled with liars and Pharisees. Episcopalians made doctrinal changes on LGBTQ, with full acceptance, all the way back in 1976! The Catholic Church is at least 50 years behind the curve, and won’t catch up for at least another 50 most likely. I couldn’t stay in that toxic environment, especially after all the hurt I experienced growing up. Now, do you want to set yourself up for more pain and constant reminders? They won’t let you marry when you find your fiancé. At best they are beginning to consider talking about some blessing ceremony, not marriage; another way to remind you of our sinful condition even regarding one of the most important relationships and commitments in your life. What a blow. Episcopalians will let you marry, and they’ll celebrate with you!

  5. The Catholic Church has a long ways to go in fully understanding the journey of an LGBT person. I was raised Catholic. But I was also LGBT and couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy of the church.
    I left the church many years ago to become a Unitarian Universalist. I stayed a UU for 20 years. Even tried being a progress Congregationalist. But something was missing within my heart.
    Then one evening in a rural Northern California community, I walked into a small Catholic Church, it was New Years Eve. A young youth minister shared their personal story that evening during mass. It was moving and suddenly I realized how much I missed being Catholic and perhaps I missed the message. As I left the church that evening, I shared my spiritual journey with the youth minister and his words to me that evening help me tremendously to return to my faith and yes Catholicism. He told me my relationship was with Jesus NOT the church, as he pointed to the church as they were closing and turning off their lights. How ironic.
    He was right, the relationship I was missing as an LGBT woman was with God, not the church. There are welcoming people, and those who wouldn’t know Jesus if he stood in front of them. Because love is the core teaching, not judgements, not hate.
    I’ve seen the Catholic Church at its worse during the AIDS crisis and certainly even now. But Pope Francis actually sees our community and I believe that with all my heart. He is special and perhaps will help with inclusion. You don’t need other peoples approval to have the relationship with Jesus. You can practice worshipping in accepting Catholic Churches, other denominations, or a walk in nature . But what you can’t forget is whom the relationship is with. To that young minister wherever you are, thank you for a blessed reminder.
    I wish you much love and faith on your spiritual journey. Let’s hope the church finds its way one evening at a time.

  6. Thank you for your article. I’m a gay alum of and former teacher in a Jesuit high school, and I really, really appreciate your choice to share your story, emotions, and reflections. Rock on.