Coming out in the Midwest

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Coming out in the Midwest

Alli Runnfeldt

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After spending his childhood years with a secret he knew would not be accepted, teacher Stephen Hart braved the aftermath coming out as gay while living in the Midwest, knowing it would not be a welcome announcement.

Hart grew up in a very well-off place in Michigan that reminds him of Marin. He was close with his family during his childhood, but not in such a way that allowed open conversations. His family was also religious, which brought Hart to the conclusion that they would have a negative reaction prior.

“My family was pretty Catholic, not just ‘cafeteria Catholic.’ We went to church every Sunday. We went to Sunday School, catechism, we did our communions, confirmations and baptisms,” Hart said. “I thought by the time my parents found out, that they would have at least had some idea, that they would have maybe suspected. I figured the reaction wasn’t going to be good, but I didn’t think it would be as extreme as it was.”

Hart’s parents had the initial reaction that he had expected when he told them just before his 18th birthday. His father angrily stormed out of the house, and his mother cried, asking continuous questions. This was followed by months of incessant punishments, according to Hart.

“I was kind of under house arrest for eight months. I went to school, I came home, I went to work, I did my homework and I went to bed. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends, go to school functions,” Hart said. “They worked with my boyfriend’s parents to make sure we had no contact with each other, so I didn’t talk to him for many years.”

Hart still remembers his dad’s first thoughts after finding out about his sexuality.

“He wished I was some drug-using skater who had gotten his girlfriend pregnant because he would have known how to handle that, but he didn’t know how to handle having a gay son,” Hart said.

Hart’s relationship with his parents never fully recovered, as, according to Hart, they lost all faith and trust in him.

“They acted like I had betrayed them in some way because I didn’t tell them I had a boyfriend, and it was ‘unnatural.’ But I wasn’t a bad kid. I had straight As, I didn’t drink or do drugs, I had a job, I volunteered. I was taught to feel like this all sort of counteracted all of that and made me a bad person,” Hart said.

During his junior year of college, Hart’s sexuality once again became a major source of contention as his family was still not okay with it, leading him to make a major decision.

“I decided to cut myself off from them for a while. I became financially independent and took on the cost of school and everything on my own,” Hart said. “[I told them] you don’t have to accept me, but I also don’t have to be in your life, and you don’t have to be in mine.”

Although it was difficult for Hart to take charge of his own life, it allowed him to escape the narrow views of the world his family had and rewrite some of his own beliefs. Hart believes that if he was not gay, he may still hold some of the same views as his family and is grateful for that outcome.

These experiences are what inspired Hart to consider a path in teaching. Sophomore Connor Moon, who shares Hart’s experience as he also came out at a young age, believes he was lucky to have a supportive family, unlike Hart.

“[Coming out] impacted who I became friends with, it impacted my relationships with other people [and] how I see myself, most importantly. It’s [the reaction was] kind of neutral, I wouldn’t say it was positive or negative. It is just part of me,” Moon said.

Moon had an art teacher in middle school that came out as lesbian, and it inspired him to come out as well.

“I thought she was really fantastic and brave, but I’ve never really trusted my teachers [with personal experiences] to that extent,” Moon said.

While Moon did not confide in someone outside his family, many students confide in Hart.

“Often times, usually at least two times a year, I’ll get a note from a student that’s like ‘I’m kind of in the same boat, I think I’m gay, I think I’m bi[sexual] and I’m afraid of how my parents will react,” Hart said.

Although he typically gets anonymous notes, Hart wants to be a source of support for students seeking help, as he was unable to find this for himself when isolated from his family. Hart has learned from his past, inspiring him to be a supportive teacher by letting students know that they are not alone; he does not want anyone to feel the same pain he did.

“I wanted really badly to say something and tell [my teachers] about what was going on, at least just so somebody knew. But I didn’t, I always talked myself out of it,” Hart said.

 

Mr. Hart outside his classroom where he teaches yearbook.

The rainbow is a symbol of the LGBT community.

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