“Freshly out, Colin found plenty of love, support and acceptance among his family and friends—”I used to tell my son God makes no mistakes, only man does,” Jessie remembers—but his public-school life remained harsh and hellish. By the time he reached El Modena, the harassment became straight-up violent.
"Students threw full soda cans and food at him," Jessie recalls. "People tried to trip him. He couldn’t use the boys’ bathroom because he was bullied there, so he had to use the bathroom near the principal’s office. He started in ninth grade taking P.E., but he was transferred to written P.E. because students were cruel to him during P.E. class. He was called ‘queer,’ ‘sissy’ and ‘faggot’ in P.E. and all day long.”
Colin finally had enough. Spurred by the murder of Matthew Shepard a year earlier, he decided to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus, so he and anyone else at El Modena would have a place, even for a little while, that was free from hostility. Similar GSA groups were beginning to pop up on high-school campuses all around the country at the time—including one at Fountain Valley High, which this year celebrated its 20th anniversary—so, Colin thought, why not one at ElMo?
Jessie Colin thought it was a fantastic idea.
But there couldn’t have been a worse place to try to get one started.”
“Shortly after my group of friends first invaded his corner, Mr. Lehrer warmed to us and began responding to our questions. He told us about the time he hit a deer while driving home down a dark dirt road, and he said that he moved to Houston for his fiancée even though his parents had raised him to detest city life. Eventually, Mr. Lehrer let us address him by his first name—Trace—and he allowed us to spend lunchtime every day in his classroom while he told us about his life. We sat perched on desktops while Mr. Lehrer talked, devouring our crustless PB&J sandwiches along with every word he said.
To us, Mr. Lehrer was omniscient: he had already written the chapter of his life that my friends and I were starting to scribble for ourselves. Tales about his teen adventures seemed novel and foreign and, yet, as if they might soon become our own—we just had to blow out one more round of birthday candles and open up our eyes. Mr. Lehrer represented the way boys would be when we got to the other side of high school, seemed to us like the kind of male friend we could expect to have one day, but who we were lucky to find so soon. We all liked Mr. Lehrer. Mr. Lehrer liked all of us.
But I could always tell he liked me the most.”
This fragile web of cadences I spin,
That I have only caught these songs since you
Voiced them upon your haunting violin. "