By Jeff Walsh
Jake Hein's life changed when his English teacher persisted in asking why he couldn't attend a forensics meet. He had told her he had another commitment, but after additional prodding told her he was attending a meeting for gay teens trying to start a local support group. dent, who lives outside Eau Claire, Wis., says the teacher shouldn't have been too shocked. During a recent meeting with the principal, Hein had told the principal he was gay.
"I was always brought up with 'Just be who you are,' and I didn't really think it was that big a deal, and obviously it was," he says. "Because it's a part of who I am, I didn't actually think he'd have such a big problem with it. I should have done a little bit more of a background check, I guess.
"I just told him, 'Hey this is what's going on with me, and I'd like to keep this confidential, thank you, so other teachers and the students don't know, that type of thing.' A week passed, and he told the whole staff that I was gay. He held a faculty meeting and told the staff," Hein says.
'I just told her the truth'
After a couple weeks passed, things went on as usual, and Hein started planning the support group meeting. The meetings were going to be held at the Northwest Wisconsin AIDS Project offices, which was going to help with the meetings. The meeting to organize the support group, though, happened to fall on a day when Hein was expected to attend a forensics meet.
"I told my English teacher that I wasn't going to be able to make a forensics meet, and she said 'Why not?' And I was just so sick of it all by then, I didn't care what happened pretty much," he says. "She already knew I was gay, since the principal held a faculty meeting, so it shouldn't have surprised her. I said, 'Well, I'm going to the first gay youth meeting here in Eau Claire.' I just told her the truth.
"Later in the day, she told the principal and he said 'Well, it's okay to be a gay person, but not if you're a practicing homosexual.' And it turned into a confrontation. I didn't swear. I didn't lose it. He did. He was yelling and that type of thing," Hein says. "So, I said, 'Hey, why don't you just expel me,' and I was being sarcastic. I just didn't want to deal with it, I was so sick of the whole situation. So, he said, 'Clean out your locker. You're not going to attend school here any more.' So, I went downstairs, cleaned out my locker and I was balling the whole time. I went outside and waited for a teacher to bring me home. It was really an awful situation."
While Hein was crying outside waiting to go home, the principal called a meeting and outed Hein to the other 30 students that attend the religious school. Hein never returned to the school.
'I fit the persona of a nice, little Christian boy'
Hein says he was "overall, a pretty good student" and fit in with the other students. He previously left a Catholic high school when he was being harassed there. But at his new school, he hoped things would be different.
"The only reason I went to Eau Claire Christian High School was because I thought it would be a good sheltered area for me to go, because I wouldn't be harassed," he says. "I could get my schoolwork done, graduate and everything would be A-OK, I guess. I fit the persona of a nice, little Christian boy, which they thought I was and I tried to uphold.
"Once I figured out my sexual identity, I gave it a couple months and in my sophomore year I came out in September to a couple of friends at school," he says. "In February, I came out to my principal and told him what was going on, because I was missing a lot of school. I had some problems with the school because I didn't believe in the curriculum because I'm agnostic. It was hard for me to exist at the school because I didn't agree with it at all."
Hein and his mother were looking at other school options at about the same time he was expelled, although they weren't finding anything.
After being expelled, Hein and his mother agreed to be interviewed by a local newspaper who had found out a student had been expelled and tracked Hein down. Under the headline "Christian school outs, then ousts gay teen-ager," Hein (using the pseudonym "Benjamin") told his story. In the article, the school's new principal, who didn't work at the school when Hein was expelled, issued a statement. The previous principal is now a history teacher at the school.
"During the 1995-6 school year, a student at Eau Claire Christian High School became interested in starting a homosexual advocacy group for students," the statement reads. "As this is not within the mission of ECCHS, we brought this to the attention of the student's parents in an effort to address the matter. At that time, his parents chose towithdraw him from ECCHS."
The new principal further stated that Hein violated a school rule which reads: "I understand that ECCHS has a standard of sexual morality that is based on Biblical guidelines rather than those of the culture, the popular media, or peer groups."
Although Hein did not sign the statement in his last year, by signing his admission form he agreed to the conduct code, the new principal said.
'It's always been kind of there'
Accepting his sexuality has never been an issue for Hein, he says.
"When I was four or five years old, I knew what I was. I knew that I wasn't the average male, liking girls and that type of thing. I was always sitting around and talking with the girls while guys were playing kickball," he says.
"At the same time, I'm not an effeminate gay male, either. A lot of it has to do with my upbringing, because I wasn't allowed to play with dolls or anything like that," he says. "But at the same time, I'm a sensitive person, because I know what itfeels like to be picked on. So, that's a good thing that came out of it, trying to help other people."
He says he never had any major epiphany where he just realized he was gay and everything finally made sense.
"It's always been kind of there, and I really had no problem with it. I didn't decide to tell my parents until Sept. 17, 1995. It's when it all started for me," he says. "Me and my dad got into a confrontation and I said 'Dad, you can't expect so much from me all of the time, because I can't be everything you want me to be. Sit down, we need to talk. I'm gay.' And he c ried. I'd never seen my father cry. It was just awful, but he got over it."
His father still supports him, although his mother is his biggest supporter.
"The paper got that wrong. They said she wasn't my advocate, but she is," he says. "She's involved in PFLAG. My mom is very supportive of me. That's why we decided to go public."
What lies ahead...
Hein is currently finishing his high school equivalency, and plans on enrolling in cosmetology school.
"Yeah, I'm going to be another fag cutting hair, but it's something that I wanted to get into for a long time."
And the support group he started has also been doing well. Since the end of May, over 30 youth have visited the group, and Hein says 16 to 20 attend regularly.
"We've been doing a lot of outreach," he says. "We've done a lot of speaking and hearing other people speak about the issues in Minneapolis and such, so we can start to do it here inEau Claire." His activism with the support group is just the beginning, he says. He plans to become more involved in the gay community as he gets older.
"I can be a hairstylist by day and an activist by night," he says, laughing. "I would really like to get more into it, but you're limited when you're 17 years old."
But even after everything he's gone through in the past year, Hein says it's been worth it.
"I'm just a lot more comfortable now being who I am."