At the tender age when most teens are opting for conformity, many Novato students are rallying
behind Adam Colton, whose courage and candor about his sexual identity have come at high personal cost.
San Marin High School students have sent handwritten cards and condolences to Colton, an openly
gay student who was beaten last week for the second time this school year.
An outpouring of concern for the 17-year-old senior was expressed this holiday weekend by
friends at downtown Novato shops, swim team athletes and students rehearsing for the musical, "Hello Dolly.''
"Adam's rad,'' said classmate Samantha Niehoff, 17, outside the Bongiovi coffee shop. "I'm so
proud of Adam being so open, it is a huge step for this town.
"San Francisco has one of the highest gay populations in the world, and yet being gay is such an
issue in a town 30 minutes away,'' she continued. "It's like people are so scared about their image and identity.
Nobody wants to be the outsider because they'll get picked on.''
That is apparently what happened last Friday, when Colton appeared dazed and bruised as he
walked into a class at 11:31 a.m. after suffering blows in a parking lot on the 60-acre campus. His arm was etched
in pen with the word "fag,'' and he was treated for abrasions and a swollen lip at Novato Community Hospital.
On September 15, a week after Colton had come out of the closet at school and formed a student
group called Gay-Straight Alliance, he was thrashed by three male youths outside a Lucky supermarket.
"We're just overwhelmed,'' said his father, Jerry Colton, standing in the driveway of his Black
Point home two days after the latest attack.
Novato police are investigating the attacks as possible hate crimes and have started a
confidential witness hotline with a $7,000 reward, said Sergeant Jim Berg.
The students' willingness to speak openly about the violence was in marked contrast to many
adults, who seemed to want to hush up any appearance of controversy. San Marin is still under a cloud after an
incident at a basketball game last year, when one of its students yelled racial slurs at students from Tamalpais
Athletic coaches and parents helping with weekend rehearsals discouraged students from
discussing the events with outsiders.
But one San Marin school neighbor, Ana Chavarria, was outspoken in her criticism.
"The kids who did the beating aren't taking responsibility for their crimes. And the students
who know and don't tell are condoning that behavior,'' Chavarria said. "This is very scary. Where are these kids
learning their values? This is still an enclave of the extremely blond and blue-eyed.''
School Principal Rudy Tassano, however, defended the 1,022-student body at San Marin, saying
most were active in the yearlong "respect days'' that taught tolerance and acceptance of differences.
He added that the administration works diligently to ensure a safe and secure environment, while
trusting the students to act honorably in the open- campus system.
He said the staff would unobtrusively watch any imperiled student when they arrive on campus,
change classes or attend after-school events.
"It is a very compassionate student body, and it is very unfortunate when an incident happens
and you get a reputation,'' Tassano said. "But you just can't let it get you down.''
When the subject of the assailants came up, Tassano became vehement: "I just hope we nail these
guys, whether they happen to be ours or from somewhere else.''
It was unclear whether Colton, who attends drama and creative writing classes at the San Marin
school, will return to classes today or the regular Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at lunchtime. He recently began
independent study courses at NOVA, adjacent to North Marin High School.
Colton, who wears shirts celebrating diversity and the occasional eye shadow, is admired by
students for trying to foster acceptance of differences. Classmates spoke of his drama skits and involvement in a
forthcoming production of Shakespeare's, "Midsummer Night's Dream.''
But several students expressed concerns that San Marin's reputation would be tarnished by
accusations of bigotry and racism. While some students said the hicks'' � local rednecks who drive pickups with
Confederate flags � could have delivered the assault, the scuttlebutt was the bullies had came over from North
San Marin freshman Erik Wahlberg, 16, said he was disgusted by the intolerance that probably
motivated the attackers.
"I think it is wrong to beat someone up because they are different,'' he said. "It's like
beating up someone because they like cars or like to work out.''
Steffanie Johnson, 17, a San Marin senior who said she has known Adam since preschool, praised
his efforts in forming the alliance.
"He's the sweetest, most mature kid. He's so nice to everyone. You would think he is mad at the
world, but he is accepting of anyone,'' she said.
One adult well-versed in the dynamics of Marin County said there are pockets of intolerance in
every liberal community, including Novato.
"There are some parents who are reluctant and aren't willing to deal openly with issues of
homophobia. It is when the violence erupts that we need to step forward and say this is not OK,'' said Paula
Pilecki, executive director of Spectrum, a gay and lesbian group in Marin County. Pilecki is working with gay youth
and church leaders for a rally Saturday in Novato.
But one minority San Marin alumnus, asked whether the adults and parents could banish the
prejudice, said he is doubtful. He rattled off several examples of verbal or physical violence against minority
students over the past five years. "This is a long, long, long-term problem that hasn't healed,'' he said.