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Out and Proud: LGBTQ+ alumni use their voices for change
Interlochen alumni reflect on Pride Month
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month is celebrated each year during the month of June to remember the 1969 Stonewall Uprising—a tipping point for the gay rights movement in the United States. In support of Pride Month, we’re highlighting three of our alumni who are members of the LGBTQ+ community as they reflect on Pride, their Interlochen experiences, and their lives since Interlochen.
Jane Morrison put down the trumpet and picked up the fight for gay rights
Jane Morrison (IAA 80-82) remembers life before Pride Month, when people worried that being openly gay or lesbian might make them social outcasts and, in some places, criminals. Instead of staying in the closet, she chose a different path, smashing stereotypes and leading the way for others.
After studying trumpet at Interlochen Arts Academy, Morrison attended Eastman School of Music with the goal of pursuing a performance career. Those dreams began to fade as she encountered the challenges of being a member of the LGBTQ+ community during the early 80s before there was widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians in most corners of American life. Her response to those challenges? “I said, this isn’t right–and I went off to try to change the world!”
Morrison left Eastman and enrolled in Boston University, where she found a supportive LGBTQ+ community that nurtured her interest in activism. She led the lesbian-gay student organization and organized the first awareness week on campus. She had an off-campus job with gay and lesbian advocates and began to see the difference that lawyers could make in the growing movement for LGBTQ+ equality. Through that experience, she realized that becoming an attorney might be her path to change the world and headed to law school.
Throughout her legal career, Morrison has worked on behalf of issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. She established a gay and lesbian bar association, taught legal education courses, and wrote advocacy briefs. She moved to Georgia because she saw the need for her work in the southeastern United States and helped form the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia. She then became the regional director of Lambda Legal, which took her around the southeast promoting equality.
Now a judge on the Fulton County (GA) State Court, Morrison stresses that she must bring an impartial perspective to the bench, so her activism is more personal. At the time of her election in 2012, she was one of the first openly gay judges in Georgia. Of her work and her commitment to live publicly as a lesbian, Morrison said, “As a lawyer, I really do believe in the power of advocacy to change people’s minds—to change hearts and minds and find commonality.”
Morrison encourages Interlochen students and alumni to stay engaged and to use their role as artists for change. “We used to think artists were removed from society, which allowed them to comment on society. As citizens we remain involved, not just comment,” she said. “We do work that promotes and shapes a future—a shared society that allows artists to claim their power from within.”
After leaving music behind to pursue her legal career, Morrison has returned to the classical music world. She’s now on the advisory council of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra where she serves as the co-chair of the Diversity & Community Connection Task Force. She’s proud to be involved with IN UNISON, the Atlanta Symphony’s affinity group for LGBTQ+ patrons.
Reflecting on the importance of Pride Month, Morrison said, “I’m old enough to remember how exciting it was to go to a gay pride parade and call out to people, ‘Happy Gay Day’ as if there was one day of the year when it was okay to be myself. There’s a lot to celebrate. We’ve come a long way—out of the closet and into our full open and honest selves.”
For Chris Largent, pride started at Interlochen
As a high school student, Chris Largent (IAA 07-09) was a triple-threat. When he and his father drove from Saginaw, Michigan, to check out Interlochen in June 2007, he was investigating three potential majors: visual arts, music, and theatre design and production. Today, Largent says that his Interlochen Arts Academy education allowed him to bring all those interests together and prepared him for his current role as associate technical and facilities director for the San Francisco Opera.
But that’s not all that Interlochen prepared him for. When Largent arrived at the Academy, he was just beginning to explore his gender identity. “Back in Saginaw, I was just Chris, a masculine-looking female” he said. At Interlochen, he found a safe community where he could embrace what he had understood about himself since he was six years old. He began using he/him pronouns and engaged in conversations about what it meant to be transgender with trusted friends and adults.
“I met so many queer youth and allies at Interlochen. We were just developing the language for transgender people and we talked about it. The first place I came out as transgender was with the Interlochen Gay-Straight Alliance. “I was the only out trans student that I knew of on campus at that time,” he said. “Interlochen allowed me to transition from ‘Chris the lesbian’ to ‘Chris the transman.’”
Largent is grateful that he and his wife, Jamye, are able to live openly and authentically in San Francisco. “It’s important that society sees that this is a normal thing. I have a great job, my wife has a great job, we own a house, we live a normal life.”
For Largent, Pride Month is a time for members of the LGBTQ+ community to say, “We’re here. We’re real.” Pointing out that some LGBTQ+ people may not live or work in a supportive environment or feel comfortable living openly, he said that Pride Month reminds people that they’re not alone. It also raises the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community for youth who may need mentors or just an opportunity to see others like themselves.
Looking back on his time at the Arts Academy, Largent realizes that if Interlochen hadn’t been a safe and supportive place, he might have turned out differently—to be angry. Instead, he remembers the words he spoke to his fellow students as student body president. “I told them that all of us are big fish in the same pond, so be kind to each other, be there for each other.”
Noah Ricketts on the importance of using his voice on and off stage
Actor and Arts Academy alumnus Noah Ricketts (IAA 09-10) was already immersed in the performing arts back home in Louisville, but he felt like he needed more. That’s when he heard about Interlochen. He convinced his mom to let him audition for the Arts Academy, and a few months later he was performing a monologue in the Harvey Theatre.
The lessons he learned as a senior at the Arts Academy have taken him far: two Broadway shows—most recently in the role as Kristoff in Frozen—as well as Off-Broadway, films and television, and concert performances with the Houston Symphony and The Kentucky Opera. “More than anything I learned that my art must be transformative and bigger than myself,” he said. “Taking that simple idea into auditions has changed everything for me. I am able to walk into a room and change the person on the other side of the table with my performance. Interlochen taught me to own my uniqueness–and to use it as a gift for change.”
Using his unique voice as a gift for change doesn’t stop when Ricketts leaves the stage. “For so long, LGBTQ+ stories have been pushed to the background. The simple act of being here, being present, and being confident in who I am is so powerful.” And even though there is more acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the arts than in many other parts of society, Ricketts points out that LGBTQ+ representation still needs some work. “In the arts, people have been othered, the comic relief, and/or hyper sexualized. I think it is important that we talk about our lives as LGBTQ people and let the world know that we are so much more than that.”
For Ricketts, Pride Month is an opportunity to amplify LGBTQ+ voices, to look at how far the world has come, as well as highlight the work that still needs to be done on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. “It gives the world a lens into our lives and how we are thriving through the pain. It allows LGBTQ youth to gain a deeper perspective of queer history and how their existence came to be.”
Just as he learned to use his voice at Interlochen, Ricketts encourages current students and alumni to use their voice for good as well. “I think we are all presented with moments that we don't get back. I believe those moments are the ones that create true change,” he said. “It may be uncomfortable, but speak up for what you know is right. Push back in your art and in your life. It will make a difference.”