Award may honor HM abuse victim


Charles Balter said he and Horace Mann Head of School Thomas Kelly have discussed creating a public service award in honor of his brother, Benjamin Balter.

Benjamin Balter committed suicide in 2009, years after he reported in a 1993 letter to the Horace Mann administration that arts department chair Johannes Somary made inappropriate advances toward him.

Despite difficulties stemming from dealing with the abuse, Benjamin Balter wrote a letter to the editor published in a spring 1994 edition of The Horace Mann Record, in which he disclosed that he was gay and took on homophobia. His writing prompted at least three faculty members to disclose that they were gay, according to his brother.

“He could really write. And it just brought to bare the issue of homophobia and prejudice and confronted a very complex, sensitive topic, at obviously, a very, very difficult time in his life,” Mr. Balter said. “I admire it even more now knowing what he was up against.”

Weeks later, he helped found the campus’ Gay/Straight Alliance, his brother said. After posting fliers around campus and creating T-shirts to recruit attendees, Mr. Balter said dozens showed up for the first meeting.

Mr. Balter said that he and Mr. Kelly had a “positive” discussion about paying tribute to his brother’s trailblazing with an annual public service award. Ideally, Mr. Balter said the distinction and a small cash award would go to a student who helped foster diversity, inclusion and a sense of community.

“He did something not even a teacher had the courage to do and it really made a difference,” Mr. Balter said. “What impressed me so much about him is when I look at the actions he took in the face of such at adversity at 16-, 17-years-old, he was 10 times the responsible adult that teachers, administrators and board members who we hold as esteemed members of society were.”