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Not Quite a Runway Model

Postcard from Manhattan

By Adam P. Schneider

MANHATTAN—“We’re a small-town newspaper in a community of traditional values,” said the managing editor of a paper in rural Nebraska. It’s exactly the type of rhetoric I had heard all throughout high school. “People shouldn’t be gay at Brentwood. They should wait until university. It’s better there,” said a senior administrator at my high school. Well, I waited.

Last year, like most arriving first-years, I wanted a cliched fresh start. As I flipped through the pages of the freshman facebook, I began to believe that the task was hopeless. I cringed at the ice cream social when a high school acquaintance introduced my friend Tracy and me as “premier Canadian debaters” to hordes of new faces. Following the incident, Tracy decided that in order to escape our debating past, she would tell everyone that we were international runway models.

“Harvard people are so scared of being intolerant. They will believe anything,” she said. Now, as much as I love to fabricate stories of jaunts to the runways of Milan, Paris and New York, the model guise didn’t quite fit. And even despite working part-time this summer for Vitals, a new men’s luxury lifestyle magazine, I doubt that I will soon be sporting the latest threads from John Galliano’s spring collection.

But I got my fresh start. I didn’t join the debate team or run for Undergraduate Council. Instead I was elected as the Public Relations Chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) and I joined the staff of Fifteen Minutes, The Crimson’s weekend magazine. To those who know me at Harvard, these activities seem like they come as second nature. And yet, a little more than a year ago, I didn’t have a school newspaper to write for and I wasn’t even “out” to my parents.

Most people who know me well at Harvard assume I was out in high school. But instead of standing behind a table of rainbow ribbons last year on National Coming Out Day, I was hiding in a closet. My high school was and is ripe with homophobia. “That’s so gay” and “you’re such a fag” were commonplace pejoratives in the dorms and on the sports fields. It was not until the very end of my senior year that I de facto came out as a result of my graduation speech, which started with the line “You’re such a fag.” My speech explored issues of tolerance and accepting meaningful change.

Now that I am interning for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) I have noticed more than ever that people are not always as you expect them to be. In less than a year, I have gone from being in the closet to being lambasted by national conservative newspapers for transgender activism on behalf of the BGLTSA. The word “gay” for me has changed from a shameful denial of my sexuality to a proud celebration of who I am.

One of my projects for GLAAD is to complete their Announcing Equality campaign, which is aimed at creating a directory of newspapers nationwide that print same-sex wedding announcements. It aims to represent a way for BGLT people to share their unions—and for people to know more about the families that share their community. My job is to call up papers from Arkansas to California and ask about their policies. At first, I was skeptical calling papers in some of the states. It didn’t seem to make much sense to try and explain why it was important to print same-sex wedding announcements to a community newspaper in a predominantly Southern Baptist community in Louisiana, but every couple of calls I would get a surprising response. “Sure, why not?” or “I don’t see any reason not to.” These responses are coming from papers in rural Nebraska and the heartland of Texas.

While making these calls from an air-conditioned office in midtown Manhattan may not stop the hate crimes or discrimination against BGLT people across the United States, it has certainly demonstrated to me that assumptions are what have divided this country. President Bush’s rhetoric of “traditional values” is nothing more than a deceptive ploy to appease a select number of religious zealots and conservative politicos.

It won’t take long before same-sex wedding announcements start appearing all over the country, even in the communities of “traditional values.” When they do, it will become harder and harder for anti-gay activists to spew their hateful rhetoric against the happily married Mr. and Mr. Smith that live next door and take their daughter to the same dance class.

It’s nice to know that someday in the future my name might grace the pages of the Wedding section of The New York Times—or, even more astonishingly, my hometown paper, The St. Helena Star.

Adam P. Schneider ‘07, a government concentrator in Quincy House, is a magazine editor at The Crimson. Despite his failed attempts at haute couture, he will spend the fall in Paris, mercilessly trying to get off the C-list.

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