High school is a time for young individuals to grow and learn new things about themselves while being surrounded by uplifting peers and teachers. For Madison (Madi) Gallarelli, high school was an unescapable four-year nightmare of harassment and homophobia.
Gallarelli attended private Catholic schools from Kindergarten to her senior year of high school. Her parents were Catholic and raised their family the same way. Unfortunately, Gallarelli’s parents were unaware of the alarming side effects associated with going to a Catholic school after Gallarelli came out as gay her freshman year.
“My school taught us that being homosexual is merely a temptation and that I would be accepted in the church until I acted on that temptation,” said Gallarelli. “But once I acted on it, I was told I would be excommunicated.”
Gallarelli recalls her junior year morality class discussion when the topic of homosexuality was talked about. Gallarelli says her school only discussed the topic for one day, leaving the students completely uneducated on the topic. It was obvious to Gallarelli that the school wanted to ignore homosexuality, leaving many unanswered questions for her but also for other students ignorant to the subject. Gallarelli was one out of two openly gay students in a school of about one thousand kids.
“No one else wanted to come out because they were terrified of what would happen to them if they did,” Gallarelli said. “People would call me gross, faggot and dyke. Every day in class, a girl I barely knew would push all of my stuff off my desk, and my teacher did nothing.”
Gallarelli explains her social life struggles and the harassment that she faced as an openly gay individual in a Catholic school. She recalls how this behavior made her feel and the emotional stress it added to her life.
“My mental health plummeted. I had suicidal and self-harming thoughts,” Gallarelli said. “When everyone is calling me disgusting every day, it becomes hard not to believe it.”
Gallarelli’s personality began to change as a result of the school harassment. She remembers feeling constantly depressed and anxious in her everyday life, resulting in a drastic personality alteration.
“Madi completely changed from the happy, funny and outgoing person we had always known to someone who was withdrawn, quiet and full of anxiety and self-doubt,” Gallarelli’s Mother, Michelle Gallarelli, said. “She wouldn’t talk to anyone, and we worried about her constantly.”
Mrs. Gallarelli states the changes she saw in her daughter due to the constant harassment at school. Mrs. Gallarelli was almost completely unaware that Madi was experiencing severe homophobia everyday by her peers. As the bullying continued, Gallarelli explains her high school years as her lowest point mentally, eventually leading to her battle with internalized homophobia.
The rainbow project, an organization that promotes the health and wellbeing of the LBGTQ+ community, defines internalized homophobia as oppression that happens to gay, lesbian and bisexual people who have learned and been taught that heterosexuality is the norm and “correct way to be.” Internalized homophobia is a mental illness that creates a negative self-worth of oneself because of their sexual orientation.
“I began to force myself in uncomfortable situations as a way to try and “fix” myself,” Gallarelli says. “I had been taught that homosexuality was a choice by my school, so I tried to choose a heterosexual lifestyle.”
Gallarelli remembers her attempt to change herself by hanging out and going on dates with boys. She recalls pushing herself to uncomfortable lengths in hopes of not being disgusted by herself.
“Of course, none of that worked,” Gallarelli said. “So, I began my journey in therapy in hopes of helping my crippling thoughts.”
Gallarelli started therapy her junior year of high school after two years of constant harassment from peers at school. Gallarelli knew she needed a safe space to reveal her traumatic school experiences that were ultimately degrading her perception of herself.
“Therapy helped my mind to shift its thinking,” Gallarelli said. “I began to think more highly of myself and care less about what others thought of me.”
Gallarelli explains her victories in therapy and the impact it had on her mentally. She began to work through her internalized homophobia and realized that she should not hate herself because of her sexuality.
“After Madi started therapy, she started to find herself again,” Michelle Gallarelli said. “She regained her confidence, voice and self-worth.”
Michelle Gallarelli recalls seeing the change in her daughter’s personality after her therapy began. Not only did Madi Gallarelli’s mood change, but so did her outlook on life.
“I began to realize, if there is a God, He wouldn’t condemn me to hell for loving another human,” Gallarelli said.
Gallarelli explains her big break-through moment while in therapy. Going to a private Catholic school for her whole life shaped her thinking to be specific to the teachings of the church. She constantly thought negatively about herself due to her teachers and peers in school. Now, thanks to therapy and her progress in mental health, Gallarelli is able take further steps in understanding what makes her happy and with whom she should surround herself.
“I came to Piedmont because of the supportive environment,” Gallarelli said. “I surround myself with people who accept me and love me for who I am.”
Gallarelli has found her true self in the clothes she wears, the friends she has and the overall support she has received since leaving Catholic schooling.
“Madi positively impacts so many people’s lives by just being herself,” said Marissa Taghon, roommate and best friend of Gallarelli. “She is the most caring and supportive person I know and will drop anything to be there for a friend when they need it.”
Taghon explains how Gallarelli is the first person to ask if she is doing okay and make it known how much she cares about her friends. Taghon loves having her around as a positive and inspiring light in her life.
Throughout Madi Gallarelli’s experience enduring harassment, deteriorating mental health and homophobia due to attending a Catholic high school, she has shown strength in facing her struggles head on.
“I don’t regret experiencing the bullying in high school because it has made me the person I am today,” Gallarelli said. “Resilient, confident and very gay.”