Beyond the Rainbow Flag


Photo: Abby Headstrom

Senior and GSA co-president Rachel Selby stands in front of University Prep.

Twenty-five years ago, Fine Arts teacher and Theater Manager Paul Fleming became the first University Prep teacher to come out as gay. At that time, Fleming said, coming out as gay was a big deal. Now, it’s different.

“If you’re gay or straight, [it] doesn’t matter in Seattle,” Fleming said.

When Fleming first came out at UPrep, he made a pledge to help others who were having similar trouble coming out to their community.

“Right after I came out, I decided that I would be proactive and involved in the gay community because I knew how difficult it was for me to be closeted,” Fleming said.

This year, UPrep’s celebration of Pride History Month during the month of October marked another step in the school’s ongoing efforts to become a more accepting community. The month focused on educating the UPrep community on pride-related issues and an expanding UPrep’s celebration of Pride. 

Pride History Month is a national event that has evolved at UPrep from Pride week, which had been organized by GSA for the past two years. Decades ago, Fleming was one of the founders of UPrep’s first GSA club.

The club began as “Cake with Mr. Fleming,” named so for two reasons: first, because Fleming would supply cake at each meeting, and second, “because we didn’t want to have the stigma of kids having to say they were gay at school,” Fleming said.

Vocal music teacher Tim Blok grew up in Lynden, Washington, a small town just south of the Canadian border. He said that UPrep’s inclusiveness is a step up from his own education experience. 

“We wouldn’t have [had a gay teacher].That wouldn’t have been possible where I went to school,” Blok said. 

He feels, however, that he is accepted as a gay teacher at UPrep. 

“[Having] grow[n] up in a place where there was no support for queer people, I think being at UPrep has always been really positive,” Blok said. 

Blok believes that acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ community is an important part of the message UPrep sends to its wider community. Blok cited the rainbow flag that hangs in Associate Director of Upper School and math teacher Sarah Peterson’s office as an example.

Senior and GSA co-president Rachel Selby, however, believes UPrep still has room to grow in implementing its inclusive message among the LGBTQ community. 

“UPrep has kind of an interesting culture around the LGBTQ community,” Selby said. “On the one hand, UPrep really emphasizes on paper that we’re very welcoming…But I think when you’re actually a part of the student life, it’s pretty different.” 

For instance, Selby pointed out the oddly low number of males in UPrep’s LGBTQ community.

 “There’s still shame and a toxic culture around that, which is hard because changing the culture is what takes the longest and the most work,” Selby said. “I definitely have felt frustrated in the fact that UPrep talks so much about being inclusive, and we still have a lot of work to do to actually get there.” 

Reiterating Selby’s frustrations, Social Emotional Learning Coordinator Schorr Lesnick noted that the lack of attendance from UPrep’s upper school at many of the non-mandatory events during Pride History Month has shown that there is still a lot of work to do in UPrep’s community. 

“It feels like people aren’t able to make that next step for that effort,” Schorr Lesnick said.

Despite senior and member of the LGBTQ community Lucy Day’s general happiness with the way UPrep embraces pride, she agrees that more participation is an important step for the community. 

“I think there could always be more participation within the school celebrating pride as a whole, and with any other affinity groups as well,” Day said.

History teacher and LGBTQ member Gus Feliu thinks that it’s also important to understand that there is diversity within the LGBTQ community.

“Gay men may have different interests than lesbian women, who may have different interests than bisexual folks,” Feliu said. 

Despite the room to grow and conversations to be had, sophomore and LGBTQ community member Chris McCarty feels UPrep is still a very inclusive community and is happy with the administration’s new efforts to create time for all school assemblies surrounding pride.

“In general, I’ve had good experiences with pride. It’s really nice to see everyone coming together, especially at UPrep with our pride assemblies,” McCarty said. 

Building on the many great things about UPrep’s acceptance of pride, Schorr Lesnick has goals to build an even more accepting community. 

“[My hope is to have] a balance of student leadership and adult support. I want students to feel like they can imagine and feel supported to do and facilitate whatever they want. We should follow their lead,” Schorr Lesnick said. “That said, I believe really strongly that it’s unfair to make students do the education and the programming that we as a school should have in place.”

Selby hopes that the change will come from the students rather than from administrative action.

“I would love to see everyone at UPrep take personal accountability to correct their friends if their friends say something that’s not quite right,” Selby said. “Just be open to having those hard conversations.”