Treasures of the Valley
» Mike lawler
This is the story of a local man I admire very much, Anthony LaCasella. In many ways I consider him among the bravest people I know because he accomplished the unthinkable: he “came out” – publically acknowledged that he was gay – in the emotional killing fields of high school. In an environment rife with bullying and derision, Anthony, with courage and grace, thrived and inspired others to accept the differences in others and really affected a permanent change in the culture at CVHS.
I recently asked Anthony about his life story so far. He grew up in La Crescenta in the ’80s and ’90s in a typical Italian Catholic household.
At about 12 years old, he began to realize that things were different for him than the other boys. Although he first suppressed his feelings, he soon realized that the die was cast, acknowledged who he really was, and at 14 had “the talk” with his parents. They reacted with the expected level of denial, punctuated with immense sadness from his mom and inappropriate jokes from his dad.
Soon after that, he began to answer his school friends’ questions with honesty. It was not an “in your face” acknowledgement of his sexual orientation, but instead was an unwillingness to hedge the truth or tell white lies about who he was or what he was feeling. Anthony says he just wasn’t going to live a lie.
Surprisingly, he didn’t experience the hostility one would expect. Yes, there was name calling and snickering, but no physical confrontations – no beatings. Overall, probably because of Anthony’s natural likability and self-confidence, he experienced acceptance at high school.
Anthony was an unusual teen. His fearless nature and positive attitude carried him through the verbal assaults and difficult social situations. Some teens who struggle with their sexuality are not so lucky. For some, their communities or cultures are intolerant of gays and they’re ostracized, or their families reject them. These are the ones that hide their misery, deny who they are, and sometimes descend to drugs and occasionally suicide.
A natural leader, Anthony saw an opportunity to effect positive change. With a friend, he formed the Gay/Straight Alliance club at CV High in 2001, a club that is still active today. The idea was to create a safe haven for students, both straight and gay, to talk about themselves and their lives without fear of ridicule. The first meeting was big, with 65 students and teachers attending. I spoke to someone (not gay) who attended those first meetings. They stressed it wasn’t a “gay club,” but attended by a wide variety of kids, all of them just trying to figure out life. It was a forum to learn about health and positive personal growth and to try to end fear and hatred of one of the last taboos in our society: homosexuality.
Anthony’s parents finally came to terms with their son’s lifestyle, due in part to his choice in boyfriends. His beaus were good honest people, from good backgrounds, and with good futures. His parents now have a great relationship with Anthony, and they brag about him like the proud parents they are.
Anthony told me that, “CV was a surprisingly safe and accepting environment to grow up in – even for a gay teen.”
He said, “La Crescenta is very conservative, but not hateful.” In the decade since high school, Anthony has built a successful life. He graduated college with a degree in horticulture and opened, and currently operates, a very successful local restaurant. Also impressive is his strong 10-year relationship with his partner.
There are several people in our local history that I consider my heroes: The artist Seymour Thomas for his devotion to his family, his community and his art. Agnes Richards, founder of Rockhaven Sanitarium where women with mental disabilities were treated for the first time with dignity and respect. Near the top of my list is Anthony LaCasella who, with incredible courage and optimism, has raised our community to a new level of acceptance and understanding.