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Gay Alums Would Have Liked Support : Unity: In backing Student Alliance, Fountain Valley High graduates talk about troubled school years.

December 08, 1993|DEBRA CANO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They felt isolated. Out of place. Confused. One was even suicidal.

All are graduates of Fountain Valley High School and are unified in one belief: that a support group for gay and lesbian students would have been a saving grace during their own troubled times at school.

As debate raged over whether to continue allowing the Fountain Valley High School gay-support group called the Student Alliance to continue meeting on campus, the graduates have chosen to speak up about the controversy and lend their support for an outlet they say would have eased the bewilderment of being young and homosexual.

One of the alumni considered hurling himself off the Slater Avenue overpass atop the San Diego Freeway.

"I had those thoughts a lot that, 'Wouldn't it be easier if it was over? If I died?' " said Patrick Henigan, 26, who graduated in 1986 with top honors and awards.

Henigan, who played football and served on the Associated Student Body Executive Council, graduated from Harvard University, but his feelings of success during those high school years would have been eased by a group where others could share similar feelings, he said.

"I felt so alone, I didn't value myself," he said.

Henigan, who now lives in New Jersey with another man and plans to attend law school next fall, is not alone in experiencing emotional turmoil as a gay teen-ager.

Craig Bugbee, 24, a 1987 Fountain Valley High graduate and a Cal State Fullerton psychology major, said he wishes there had been a gay-support group when he was in high school.

"At that age, it's very beneficial for your psychological well-being than to hide who you really are," said Bugbee, who dated girls in high school to hide the fact that he was gay.

"I didn't feel suicidal, but a lot of kids do because they don't fit in society's norm and they don't fit the mold their parents already made for them," he said.

Kelly Bach, 26, a 1984 Fountain Valley High graduate, said her high school years were painful.

"I felt isolated, and not having anywhere to turn to talk to anyone made it very difficult in getting through high school," said Bach, of Long Beach.

Bach recalled that during her time in high school, the media, movie industry and teen magazines reinforced the view that the world should be heterosexual.

"I remember having those feelings of being confused," she said. "I feel that having a place to get support or information is really important."

Bach, like her former classmates, said she believes that keeping access open on high school campuses to allow gay support groups is imperative to the pursuit of tolerance for all races and cultures.

"It's important for people to remember that they may have an opinion, but that it's also important to respect another person's opinion," she said.

Robin K. Martinez, 29, of Costa Mesa, who attended Westminster High School, which is in the same school district as Fountain Valley High, said that as a gay teen she also had feelings of alienation.

"But the only emotional confusion I had was not about sexuality," said Martinez, who graduated in 1981 and works as a buyer. "It was if there was anybody else out there that had the same feelings."

Martinez said that when she told her friends she was gay, one reacted negatively and she lost that person's friendship.

"For my parents, it took a little bit to get used to it," said Martinez, who revealed her homosexuality to her parents when she was 17. "They thought it was something they could fix. I assured them I was born this way and there was not a choice. The only choice is to be proud and happy and feel good about myself."

Times staff writer Mark Platte contributed to this report.

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