Senior Year: APs, College Prep, and Coming Out in My Orthodox High School

 

Amram Altzman and Rachel Leah, co-founders of the Sexuality, Identity, and Society Club at Ramaz High School in New York City, at the LGBTQ Teen Youth Shabbaton, August 2012

When I tell my friends who are not Orthodox that I’m out of the closet and attending a Modern Orthodox high school, many of them do a double take. Why would I subject myself to that, they ask. One even asked why I hadn’t left and fled to the comforts of public school. Why would I choose to stay in a community where, my friends thought, I wasn’t accepted?

Those were the very same questions that I asked myself when I first realized that being openly gay was something that I wanted to do. To be fair, though, it wasn’t quite a realization that I wanted to be completely out, but rather, something that happened almost accidentally and that I realized ex post facto. I knew that my closest friends, the ones whom I had come out to first, wouldn’t have a problem with my being gay, nor would they out me to anyone with the intent to hurt me. I knew that the friends whom I had told at first had other friends who were LGBT, and who could — and would — be supportive of me as I proceeded to come out to my parents and more friends.

I had known that these friends would be there for me, but as I started coming out to people with whom I wasn’t particularly close, I headed into uncharted territory: outside of my circle of friends. How would I know that they wouldn’t run off, screaming at the top of their lungs? How could I know that my telling them that I am gay wouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable? After all, going to a Modern Orthodox school where I was the second student in the history of the school to have been out of the closet, there was little to no precedent for how people would respond. (The other out student graduated before my grade even entered high school.) For many people, I would learn later, I was the first out person they met.

When I first realized that I was coming out to more and more people, and the secret that I had fought so hard to keep private was slowly becoming public knowledge amongst a student body famous for not being able to keep secrets, I began asking myself those same questions that my friends outside of school had been asking me. In a Modern Orthodox day school, acceptance of the LGBT community is not something discussed seriously within the student body; since there were no out students, there was never really a need to discuss anything about the LGBT community. As such, when I first started coming out, I didn’t know where or how to find the acceptance amongst my not-so-close friends, which I eventually did find. The idea of having a friend, a classmate, who was gay had genuinely never crossed their minds. For the average student in my school, this wasn’t an issue that mattered to them. In the dual-curriculum, hyper-competitive environment that my school is famous for, there are far more pressing issues than a student who comes out of the closet — there are test scores, papers, APs, trips, after-school clubs, and commutes.