School's out

Walt Whitman Community School in Oak Lawn is America's first private high school for gay and lesbian students. Despite some grim personal stories, the kids are all right.

Hare broadens the conversation away from sexuality to talk about how lonely childhood can be for anyone.

"A lot of adults think you don't feel depressed until you grow up and have to take care of yourself," she says. "But kids get depressed too. You're in this weird in-between where everybody's 'taking care of you,' but nobody's listening. You just kind of float. That's why kids want to sneak into adult clubs and stuff, because there's such a variety of places that adults can go. There's not really a lot for kids to do; they just float."

I ask Hare if she feels more stress over being a racial or a sexual minority, but she's too crafty to fall for such a simplistic proposition.

"It's hard being black, and it's hard being gay," she says with a humorless smile. "But it's hardest of all to be black and gay."

As a straight white male, 16-year-old Robert Headrick was accustomed to being a minority long before he came to Walt Whitman--first as an Anglo attending largely minority schools, and second as a school kid with a lesbian mother.

He admits to a long history of getting into fights and skipping classes, including one 80-day absence during a six-month period. That's part of the reason why, at 16, he started as a freshman at his new school, although, like every other kid I speak to at Walt Whitman, he's articulate and blunt.

"I'm not a violent person," Headrick insists. "My mother taught me to respect people, but she said, if I'm pushed into a corner, I have to fight back."

After his father was sentenced to a six-year jail term several years back, he moved to Texas from Alabama and began living with his mother, a lesbian. At Stephen F. Austin Junior High in Arlington, Headrick's troubles had more to do with race than sexuality.

"It seemed like I was the only white kid in Stephen F. Austin," he says. "And I caught a lot of hell for it. People were always picking fights with me because of something my ancestors did to their ancestors. I didn't win many of those fights."

When Headrick transferred from Stephen F. Austin to Shackleford, another Arlington junior high school, the nature of his troubles changed. Headrick says that then "people started opening their eyes about what 'gay' meant. I invited a couple friends over, and they saw that my mother lived with another woman, and they shared a bedroom. And one of them saw them kiss. After that, the rumors started flying."

He admits to being perplexed that he rather than his mother became the object of scorn. "Some kids started calling my mother 'dyke' to my face. But what was weird was, they started assuming I was gay. They called me 'fag' and 'gay lover' and all the other things that make a straight person want to hit somebody. I was getting jumped all over school. The principal would suspend these guys for three days, but nobody was expelled. The teachers did this--" he affects an insipidly blank expression and turns his head away slowly.

"But I won most of those fights," he resumes. "Except the last guy. He was 300 pounds."

I can't help but wonder if Headrick--who's not physically imposing and, with sparkling crystal blue eyes, quicker to smile than almost anyone else at Walt Whitman--was the victor in those battles because his mother's reputation was involved. When asked if he's close to his mother, he leans forward and says: "We look exactly alike. There's a strong resemblance."

He also boasts that he's spent time trying to find his mother a girlfriend, although the search has since been canceled. "She's getting married," he says proudly. "And I'm the best man."

Headrick claims he doesn't care if people think he's gay because he attends Walt Whitman; he's been accused of that so often already, the charge has lost its sting. Unlike almost every other classmate, he didn't hear about the school from local gay and lesbian youth groups; his mother asked him if he wanted to join. He insists that doesn't imply any ulterior motives on her part.

"My mother wants me to be straight," he says.
Is it because, as a lesbian, she doesn't want him to go through what she has?

"Yeah, that's part of it," he says. "But it's really because she wants to have grandkids."

"Do you realize you've just outed your 'homeboy?'"
Pamala Stone swivels around in her chair, away from her computer, to ask this of 16-year-old Ware, a fast-talking wise guy who is probably smarter than many of his teachers.

Ware has moved from one couch to another to tell me about his "homeboy" (they're just friends, and said homeboy doesn't attend Walt Whitman), a "closeted Baptist who smokes pot. Isn't that cool?"

This is just one of a few juicy tidbits of gossip that Ware has whispered to me while Stone sits across the room. Also among them was the observation that "You have to be careful who you sleep with at this school." His sudden drops in volume are the aural equivalent of a neon sign flashing "Sensitive Information Transmitted Here!" but Stone never attempts to intervene. Spend a little time with Ware, and you get his number: He likes to provoke.

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