Regular People; Regular Lives: Making Manhasset Safer For All Students

Veronica Larson

Mr. Robb Fessler is not only Manhasset’s theatre arts teacher– he is also one half of the 57th gay couple married in the United States, and an avid member of the LGBTQ+ community.


Before his twelve years of service to Manhasset, he served on judging panels for the Emmys, and presented workshops at the New York State Theatre Education Association  student conference. He is also the advisor of Manhasset’s Gay- Straight Alliance, which is a club that works to, “create a more accepting environment for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, through education, social action, advocacy, and support.” The club welcomes all– members of the club range from straight allies to supportive teachers and, of course, the members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Fessler works to help LGBTQ+ kids who don’t have family support or are still closeted and are unsure as to how the people surrounding them will react. His advice to anyone who is closeted is to, “trust your gut.  Coming out isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing”. He works to show straight counterparts that members of the LGBTQ+ community aren’t predators or freaks, but are just normal people living their lives. He says, “The GSA is here to challenge the administration to doing the right thing for ALL kids.”


Fessler argues that everyone comes out at some point- even straight people. He once told a colleague who has identified as straight to her classes that, “The kids seemed very respectful” when she came out.  “When I came out?” She exclaimed.  ‘“Yes,”’ he said, ‘“You gave them your home phone number and asked them not to call after ten o’clock in the evening because your husband didn’t appreciate it.  You identified as straight.”  She was stunned, but then she realized he was right. Everyone comes out at some point. He says that he always trusts his gut and says a little prayer before coming out each year to the seventh-grade classes who are new and don’t know anything about him yet.


Mr. Fessler strives to create a safe place in the school for its LGBTQ+ students. He believes that what creates a safe space at the meetings is, “not only the LGBTQ+ kids, who are the most courageous kids on the face of the planet, but also the straight allies.  Without straight allies, same-sex marriage would still be illegal in the United States”. He works to inspire change and believes, “that the Manhasset public schools will be truly safe only when every student is assured access to education without fear of harassment, bullying, or violence.”  


Fessler is running a number of projects working to create this utopia in high schools. Every year, the day of silence is conducted to “bring awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ+ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.”  Also, an initiative in October is held to honor National LGBTQ+ History month, in which posters of famous LGBTQ+ people with three fun facts about them are put up around the school. Another initiative he started recently is providing rainbow ribbons for National Coming Out Day in October. The club is also currently working on increasing the number of all-gender bathrooms available to students.  In the past, they’ve organized a petition to repeal the rule barring LGBTQ+ kids from joining or LGBTQ+ adults from leading the Boy Scouts of America.  That rule was ultimately overturned.  They also did a consciousness raising campaign letting people know that gay men in Chechnya were systematically being tortured and deported by Russian officials.


Members of the LGBTQ+ community are 402 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. Mr. Fessler believes that it’s very important for the people under this staggering statistic to have a support group, such as the Gay-Straight Alliance. He helps kids who contemplate ending their lives, and is making a huge difference in the Manhasset community.  He urges others to always accept and help those around them, especially members of the LGBTQ+ community. After all, we are all “just regular people living regular lives”.