Each year, Gateway Regional High School in Huntington holds an event welcoming back alumni to share their experiences about college and post-graduate life.
This year, however, the event was closed to one graduate: Marcelle LaBrecque, who spent 12 years in the Gateway Regional district, earned a degree in 2014, and is now living in New York City pursuing a career in musical theater.
LaBrecque, who prefers being referred to as “they” rather than he or she, suspected that some of the school staff might be discriminating against them on the basis of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
“I’m gender non-conforming and gay as the fourth of July,” said LaBrecque, reached Wednesday, Nov. 22, the day of the college fair event.
Meanwhile school principal Jason Finnie said there was no discrimination, but that he could not be more detailed in his explanation due to confidentiality issues.
“Marcelle has a strong relationship with our school,” he said, stating that LaBrecque has often helped with the school’s choir shows and gave a talk to the school’s gay-straight alliance about the challenges of being a non-gender conforming student.
While the exact situation remains unclear, I hope that one thing is clear to Gateway Regional officials — their communication to LaBrecque looks vague at best and they should not have relied on LaBrecque to reach out to them with concerns.
It should have been crystal clear in their communication there was no discrimination at play.
Instead, LaBrecque — confused and hurt — posted the vague correspondence they received from school counselor Meghan Wasiak on their Facebook page, along with the “feeling fuming mad” emoticon.
“I wanted to reach out because I don’t think it is a good idea for you to come to the fair tomorrow, as I know there is some tension between you and some students within the school,” the email from Wasiak reads. “I want students to be completely comfortable attending the fair and getting the information they need, please blame me for thinking of this last minute, but I think it is for the best — and it is my job to make sure that all students are getting what they need during the school day.”
LaBrecque said they were unaware of any tension with students at the school and that after reaching out to Wasiak, no explanation was given. Wasiak has served as an adviser to the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and is someone Finnie described as working hard for all students, including LGBT students.
LaBrecque has had conflicts with their family members about their gender identity and sexual orientation, and believed this may have been the cause of the email.
It is no wonder that many community members and supporters of LaBrecque believe that this is a case of homophobic discrimination, and that on LaBrecque’s Facebook page are dozens of comments offering support.
Among LaBrecque’s supporters is Huntington resident Becky Cortis, whose daughters attended school at Gateway. Her oldest graduated in 2015 and her youngest is now a first-year student at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.
“He graduated three years ago; I don’t understand what kind of problems he could possibly have with other students,” Cortis said, adding that she has known LaBrecque since LaBrecque was 9 years old. “He never caused trouble; he was more reserved and kept to himself. He loved singing. He liked art, and things like that.”
Cortis said she believes the school owes LaBrecque an apology and an explanation.
LaBrecque is looking to understand what the problem was, and if it was discrimination, is prepared to file a Title IX complaint.
“This is very disheartening and I’m hoping we can move forward or make this a lesson that people can learn from,” LaBrecque said.
LaBrecque had planned to speak to students about the Borough of Manhattan Community College through the City University of New York, where they are studying musical theatre performance.
Ultimately, LaBrecque would like to return to a classroom setting to teach, ideally at Gateway.
“That would be the ideal job, honestly,” they said.
Finnie said he was surprised LaBrecque posted the emails to social media rather than reaching out to him.
“I do feel badly and I hope to have the opportunity to speak to Marcelle in person,” he said.
I hope that there was no discriminatory intent on the part of the school. And at the same time I hope that school administrators realize it should not be incumbent upon someone like LaBrecque, who has endured discrimination in the past, to reach out to them if there are concerns.
They should be the ones who make it clear discrimination has no place within their school community.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.