LGBT nonprofit Live Out Loud is asking LGBT adults to do something that might truly terrify them: return to high school for a day.
In an effort that predates Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Video Project," Live Out Loud sends LGBT adults back to their high schools to talk about their experiences growing up and coming out for the "Homecoming Project."
The organization is calling on LGBT Chicagoans to participate. Those who do will join the ranks of "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who returned to his Salinas, Calif., school last year.
In early January 2009, Neil Giuliano returned to his high school for the first time in more than 30 years. A past president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; a former four-term mayor of Tempe, Ariz.; and the current CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Giuliano told students that he lost every election he ran for in high school only to succeed later in life.
Windy City Times caught up with Giuliano to talk about why he thinks the Homecoming Project is important, why going back to his high school gave him jitters and why he believes he was a geek in high school.
Windy City Times: Honestly, the thought of going back to my high school really terrifies me. What made you decide to go back to your high school after such a long time?
Neil Giuliano: The invitation from Live Out Loud gave me a valuable purpose for returning, to help educate and perhaps even motivate young people to be themselves, live openly and serve others in life.
WCT: What has changed in the 30-plus years since you have been there?
NG: Well, for starters, physically it was different. There had been a huge addition to the school. But you know, it still felt the same, and the auditorium was the same as when I sat in there for assemblies 30-some years prior.
WCT: Were you nervous to go back?
NG: Of course! I wasn't sure how I would be received. But it felt right, and everyone was wonderful and welcoming.
WCT: Did you know you were gay when you were in high school?
NG: I knew I was different, but I never defined that aspect of myself back then. I had little sense of my sexuality either way in high school. I was a classic leadership geek, over-involved, and my relationships were with clubs and such more so than other students. I had friends and all, but no love connections, so to speak, one way or the other. I just thought I was a late bloomer.
WCT: What did you take away from being able to go to your high school as a successful out gay man?
NG: It felt good. I was an average studentdid not really stand out in my class of over 700 students, involved but not super-high-profile, and since I lost every student office I ever ran for, not super-popular either.
WCT: Did you encounter any resistance from your high school when you approached them to do this?
NG: LIve Out Loud took care of everything and I think the school's gay straight alliance, key club and student government were all involved with the event.
WCT: What has changed at your high school in the last few years since you did the Homecoming Project? Is the school more LGBT-friendly as a result?
NG: I'm not sure, but hopefully the school is more and more welcoming for all students.
WCT: Have you kept in touch with any of the students there?
NG: Only via Facebook.
WCT: I imagine other gay people might say, "Oh well, he's famous so it's different for him to go back." How do you think average LGBT people can make a difference by going back to their schools?
NG: Listen: I am far from famous. No one knew who I was before I got there, other than I had graduated from the school. We all have a story to share, and the more we share them, the more we can change hearts and minds and have an influence for good.
WCT: For people who are on the fence about going back to their high school for this project, what do you have to say?
NG: Do it. You'll have a big impact on the young people, and the staff and feel great about the experience.
WCT: Any plans to return and do this again for a fresh set of students in a year or two?
NG: Sure, If I am invited!
To see a video on Giuliano's project as well as that of Dustin Lance Black's or to learn about doing the project at your high school, check out www.liveoutloud.info/wp.