Perspective: The Broken Glass Closet

Palo Alto’s academic pressure confines student exploration of sexuality


Art by Audrey Guo


“Coming out.” Two simple words that can define an individual’s life. As a gay man who lives with an accepting family, has supportive friends and lives in a town known for its overall progressive ideologies, I’m fortunate to say that my personal experience in coming out has been, for the most part, positive. 

Yet, it’s important to remember that, unlike some other universally shared experiences, the experience of coming out is different for every individual who ventures through the process. 

For a recent C Mag story called “Staying In, Coming Out”, my story partner and I had the opportunity to email various Paly community members who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community to explore their sexuality and the eventual process of coming out during the pandemic. The responses were astounding. Despite many differences in the interviewees’ experiences, a common theme seemed to thread their individual experiences together (including my own). People needed to feel as though they were living their authentic lives. For many of the students we interviewed, it was not necessarily a lack of acceptance but rather a lack of time due to an overly competitive and tense social and academic environment that led them to not be able to express an inherent part of their identity. 

It’s no secret that the atmosphere at Paly is competitive. Yet, such an atmosphere lends itself to more than just a sense of competition—it’s the loss of the ability to fully explore and express oneself. The cutthroat attitude of our town’s public education system encourages conformity over individuality, which in turn makes an introspective exploration of one’s identity near impossible. For all the harm it inflicted upon society, the pandemic gave otherwise nonexistent time to Paly community members to explore and express their sexuality. 

The reality is reliant upon a pandemic to finally have the time to explore who one truly is not conducive to a progressive society. The vast majority of Palo Altans laud themselves as allies for the LGBTQ+ community, but the model of our education system does exactly the opposite. 

I most sincerely believe that the Palo Alto Unified School district needs to place a greater emphasis on changing its education system to a model that can more effectively allow for introspection and exploration. The implementation of so-called “resources” for LGBTQ+ students such as focus groups or surveys attempting to gauge the school climate do very little to help alleviate the more significant issue at hand. A rethinking of our Palo Alto education system as we see it today could not be more necessary.

• Art by Audrey Guo