Outspoken: Jessie Liberatore
September 12 2005 12:00 AM ET
Life is hard.
Adults tell us we can achieve anything we desire.
Eventually, though, we learn we must fight for it.
It did not
surprise me that I faced prejudice as a young lesbian in my
conservative small-town high school in Maryland. Aware some
people would dislike me as I began advocating for
lesbian and gay equality, I prepared for rejection.
But I was not prepared to be talked down to by adults as
if my 16 years of rocky life were too few to know about
One such adult
was my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Armstrong. I respected her.
She made learning easy. Then I talked to her about the Day
of Silence—a day in which students across the
country take a vow of silence to acknowledge the
discrimination gay people face. That is the day she lost
locked the classroom door and took me to the back, away
from the window. She yelled about how the Day of Silence was
unnecessary, especially in her classroom, because
there was “no discrimination.” I wanted
to explain how often I hear the words “faggot”
and “dyke” and how “gay”
things are. I asked to leave. “No, I’m not
done with you,” I was told. Nervous, but with
no reason to run, I stayed. All she could wound was my
As she continued
I became sick. She asked if I was a lesbian. Never one
to actively hide my identity, I said yes. Then she wanted to
know what made me “think that.” Had I
had “experiences”? It was then that I walked
away, tears falling down my face. I wanted to shout that the
reason we needed the Day of Silence was because of
people like her. But I didn’t.
I feel no
resentment for Mrs. Armstrong. I fear she will never know
some of the world’s greatest people because
they identify as lesbian or gay. She taught me that
even when I speak up to hundreds of people there is no
guarantee I have opened a single mind; I must fight for that
privilege. After all, life is hard.