Luke Macannuco Establishes McCall Middle School’s First Gay Straight Alliance

Most people in town now know of Luke Macannuco, the then-seventh grader at McCall Middle School who last spring penned a Letter to the Editor in The Winchester Star in response to another citizen’s criticism of the “Hate Has No Home ” signs posted around Town. The electronic version of Luke’s letter went viral, bringing him national attention. Then last month, a Facebook page called Postcards for America contacted The Star and posted Luke’s letter, asking people from around the country to write messages of affirmation to him. Very soon, postcards came flooding in, from places as far away as West Virginia, Missouri and California. They remarked on how proud his parents must be and called his stance “heartwarming” and “inspiring.” “You are the dude!” said one postcard. “Shine on!” said another “Keep writing, it makes a difference,” said a third.

Although Luke is not writing for the public just now, he is indeed still ‘the’ dude and he continues to shine on: Last week he saw come to fruition his longtime effort to establish a Gay Straight Alliance at the Middle School. We caught up with him at Starbucks last Monday after he had finished with a full day of school and a two-and-a-half hour play rehearsal. Here, in back-and-forth form, are his reflections on life as an engaged and joyful 8th grade world citizen.

Terry: So, with all the publicity about last spring’s Letter to the Editor behind you now, what are you thinking about these days?

Luke: I’m just kind of thinking about being in eighth grade, just working hard on that and working on clubs and other stuff.

Terry: Nice! What are some of your clubs?

Luke: Right now I’m starting a GSA, a Gay Straight Alliance club. In fact it’s going to meet for the first time this coming Friday after school.

Terry: What was involved in getting that started? I mean, were there bureaucratic hoops to jump through to start a club?

Luke: Kind of. In April of last year, I had two meetings with the McCall principal, Mr. Goncalves. We talked about stuff, but he seemed unsure about having a GSA. He thought we could have what he called a Diversity Club, which I didn’t think would really work. But then when I came back this year and talked to him again, he had gone to some workshops over the summer and gotten some education and was ready to put it in motion. Then it was just a matter of finding a teacher who wanted to do it.

Terry: Be the faculty adviser you mean?

Luke: Yes. So we found a teacher and now it’s starting up.

Terry: Do you think kids will come?

Luke: Well, I invited a bunch of my friends. I think so, yes.

Terry: So anyone can come really? Anyone who believes in… what would you call it… inclusivity? Or personal freedom? Or….?

Luke: Or equality. Yeah. There’s also a Multicultural Club. My friend who is sitting behind you belongs to that.

(I turn and we both acknowledge this student, who smiles and waves.)

Terry: So what is your perception: Does this final year of middle school feel different from the way the two previous years felt?

Luke: Honestly, the size of the jump from 6th to 7th grade was the big one. In 7th grade there was more homework in general, and homework on the weekends, and you had to study harder… I feel like they were holding your hand in 6th grade and then they let go in 7th.

Terry: So you have a lot of homework this year?

Luke: Yeah, basically my whole life is about school right now. I go to school, then most days to play rehearsal, which is a good thing. Then I leave rehearsal, go home, maybe have a snack and basically do homework until I go to bed.

Terry: What time do you go to bed generally?

Luke: Like 10 o’clock or 10:30. Not that late, but still: I would rather have some downtime.

Terry: Wow! And then you have homework on the weekends too.

Luke: I mean, it’s not that bad because you have two days to do it, but it’s constantly in the back of your mind when you’re hanging out with people. I keep thinking ‘I need to be doing homework right now.’

Terry: I can commiserate. For me as a newspaper columnist, due dates and deadlines made up my whole life and that lasted from 1980 to 2016. I was never not thinking of what I had to write next.

Luke: Yeah. At school you learn for six-and-a-half hours, or however long, and then you go home to do homework, what they call ‘Outside Learning,’ but I think – and this is just my opinion – most of that is for the most part busywork. I feel like there are some assignments that are not that hard, like reading a chapter in a book for English class. But assigning four pages of science homework…

Terry: That kind of homework seems like, what? Repetitive drill?

Luke: Oh yeah, it’s like … nobody in school is, you know, curious to learn. They’re just afraid of not getting a good grade. It’s not like learning for the sake of learning.

Terry: Like maybe the curiosity to learn is eclipsed by their desire to get the good grades?

Luke: I think that is definitely a part of it. Also stress is a part of it, and the standard kids are held up to nowadays, in terms of extracurricular stuff, schoolwork, getting A’s in every class. It’s like impossible to keep up.

Terry: Yeah. You read a lot about stress in kids’ lives. Plus, some say middle school is a real trial by fire. Do you find that?

Luke: I do think high school is going to be better. I’m excited for high school. There’s a quote in the book called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl where the main character is talking about how much he hates high school. But then he says middle school was even worse because in middle school your life is so pathetic.

Terry: Ha! So pathetic! Really?

Luke: Well, there’s so much busywork, yeah. Then you have to do work for these Exploratories.

Terry: Eploratories? What’s an exploratory?

Luke: An Exploratory is like an elective. There’s InfoTech, which is like keyboarding, there’s Technology and Engineering, there’s Gym. Then you have a choice for Music between Orchestra or Band or Chorus or whatever. And there’s Health.  And Cooking…

Terry: Can you take just what you want or do you have to take all of them eventually?

Luke: You have to take all of them unless your guidance counselor says otherwise.

Terry: It’s funny that they’re presented as electives but they’re mandatory.

Luke: Yeah, I think that’s hilarious.

Terry: So what are you reading right now?

Luke: Right now we’re reading The Outsiders, which we’re about to finish and which I think is a really good book. I’m really enjoying it.

Terry: Oh sure, The Outsiders! By Something Something Hinton! What’s that first name?

Luke: S.E. I think it might be a pseudonym.

Terry: I was a teacher before I was a writer and all the students I did The Outsiders with just loved it. There’s a movie…

Luke: We’re watching the movie in class.

Terry: A lot of those actors are pretty famous now.

Luke: Yeah, there’s Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, and … yeah..

Terry: So do you read the book and then you write about it?

Luke: We kind of write about it. As we read, we’re supposed to write down things that catch our eye and then we discuss it in class.

Terry: Is the teacher exciting?

Luke: Oh yeah, plus English has always been my favorite subject.

Terry: There are some great English teachers at the high school too. (And this makes me think of Luke’s brother Jude, now a sophomore at Bard College Berlin.) So do you stay in touch with your brother in college?

Luke: Kind of. He’s in Berlin – in Germany — now and he doesn’t have an international Sim card so it’s hard. And it’s hard to Skype because of the time difference.

Terry: So there are, I think, three kids in your family?

Luke: Yes. I’m the youngest, and the middle one is Will, and Jude is the oldest.

Terry: How long have you lived in Winchester? Were you born here?

Luke: I was born in Cambridge but my parents had already moved here before I was born. They moved here after Jude finished preschool. For the education.

Terry: Yes, Winchester seems to be famous for the quality of the schools. What I like most about Winchester now is how many more people of color – people from all over the world — there are now compared to how it used to be.

Luke: Yeah…

Terry: So, what’s the Multicultural Club like?

Luke: I don’t know, I don’t work with them, but I think maybe the Network does?

Terry: OK, well you’ve just been to play rehearsal. Can you tell me a little bit about the play?

Luke: It’s Oliver! the musical, which is obviously based off the book Oliver Twist and I’m really enjoying it. I play the Artful Dodger, and it’s just a great show. There’s a lot of good music. It’s long but it’s really fun, and I love to act.

Terry: That’s wonderful.

Luke: Yeah, I want to be an actor and a filmmaker when I grow up. That’s my passion. Not many towns have such great theater programs the way we do so it’s really nice to have this resource.

Terry: What about when you’re in high school? Will you do productions in other towns? It sounds like you have the talent.

Luke: Maybe! Right now I’m trying to branch off into more screen-acting things. Over the summer I shot a little short film that I starred in. It was professional and it was a really great experience. It was like the most crazy and fun thing I’ve ever done.

Terry: So did you produce it?

Luke: No, no, I was just an actor, but there was a professional film crew, a professional DP. It was amazing.

Terry: DP?

Luke: Director of Photography.

Terry: Ok. And wow! How did you find out about it?

Luke: It was shot in town, some of it. The guy who directed it is Joe LaRocca. He lives in town and my mom knows his mom so… He needed the main character still before he shot, and I think it was like in May when I auditioned. So, I auditioned, and I got the role the next day, and it was really exciting. It was my first film experience and it was really, really fun.

Terry: What is it like?

Luke: It’s like the best thing ever. It’s really interesting and Joe and the crew, they’re all so nice…

Terry: How many in the cast?

Luke: It was a relatively small cast. There were three other kids and a dad character and a mom character so a pretty small cast, but it was so much fun. You got to know everybody.

Terry: What’s it going to be called? Do they know yet?

Luke: We don’t know the name yet.

Terry: How will it be seen? How does that work? Are there, like, festivals?

Luke: Yes, the director is going to submit it to some festivals.

Terry: Did you have to get a picture first, what do they call it, a headshot?

Luke: I already had a headshot. I have an agency and they make you do like a photo shoot. They make a ‘comp card,’ a compilation of still photos of you in other areas.

Terry: At some point will they want to see a film of you?

Luke: Probably.

Terry: So, can you, like, do accents?

Luke: I’ve been doing British accents. We just did Mary Poppins last spring, and I was Mr. Banks. Now I’m the Artful Dodger. So I’ve gone from a very proper British accent to a Cockney accent.

Terry: So here we are back at the play. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?

Luke: It’s such a talented group of kids.

Terry: How do you see it if you’re not a parent but just a regular person?

Luke: You can buy tickets. They’re like $20 each. It’s on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 17th, 18th and 19th.

Terry: I bet the tickets go fast.

Luke: Yes, usually opening night is sold out and the closing show is really crowded, too. Of course, there are two casts; we haven’t gotten our cast yet, so I don’t know my own dates.

Terry: Well I’m going to really try to see you as the Artful Dodger, that’s for sure. Now, I want to thank you for giving me this time after a long day of school and then rehearsal.

Luke: Oh no, this was really fun for me! Thank you, thank you so much. It was great!