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March 13, 2009

Story of hallway dilemma wins museum’s honors

Beachwood, Ohio--The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage on March 8 gave out awards in its inaugural Stop the Hate! Essay Contest during a gala ceremony featuring lieutenant governor Lee Fisher and museum co-founder Milton Maltz.

While the grand prize of a $100,000 college scholarship went to Solon High School senior Matt Sobol, writing about bias against people on the autism spectrum, Lauren M. McCafferty of Olmsted Falls took the High School Overall Winner position and a $1,000 savings bond.

McCafferty’s essay, one of 1,200 submitted for the competition, is an eloquent missive on the precarious position LGBT students can find themselves in at school.

She writes about being surrounded by displays of heterosexual sexuality, noting, “At least a hundred ‘traditional’ couples may stand in the hallway with their tongues down each others’ throats and go unnoticed, but as soon as two girls make a display of affection as innocent as hand-holding, the hatred in the hearts of onlookers--be they boys, girls, students, or teachers--is stirred, awakened.”

In the middle of a group of boys haranguing the pair is one who stands silent, neither joining in the verbal barrage nor standing against it.

“His stare is not of disgust, but of curiosity mingled with fear,” McCafferty continues. “I know that look. He does not hate me, yet he won’t stand up for me.”

“He’s afraid of being rejected by his friends, who snicker as my girlfriend and I pass,” she posits. “It may, in fact, be he who most frustrates me. I want to shake him, scream at him, do anything to make him understand: his silence does not harm me as much as his friends do, but it certainly does not help me.”

“I want him to stand up for me, but, more importantly, I want him to stand up for himself. He cannot help me until he helps himself,” she concludes.

Eventually, she resolves her conflicting emotions about this young man by doing what she can: she smiles at him. He smiles back after a moment of confusion. The connection, she believes, is made, and that connection may later be used to bring him to safe space.

“I keep swimming for now, but I am satisfied; although he does not stick up for me, I know that his journey to stop the hate has just begun,” the piece ends.

The 20 winning essays from middle and high school students are available on the museum’s website, www.MaltzJewishMuseum.org. Only high school juniors and seniors were eligible for the $100,000 scholarship, and $4,300 in savings bonds were given out to the other top-ranking essays from students in grades six to 12.

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