Marcous Marchese, a 2011 graduate of Milton Hershey School, recently spoke publicly about being pressured into viewing a religiously oriented antigay video at the school seven years ago.
Funded by the late chocolate magnate Milton S. Hershey, the school serves 2,000 underprivileged youth from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Students live on campus in cottages with assigned house parents.
In 2010, two of the school’s house parents allegedly pressured Marchese into viewing an antigay video while other students were present, according to published reports.
“I was a wreck. I closed [the laptop] and got the heck out of there,” Marchese told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You should not have people make you feel like you are the scum of the earth.”
Marchese, 24, currently lives in Vermont and said he plans to marry his male partner.
The school is embroiled in contentious litigation with Adam Dobson, another former Hershey student who claims he was pressured into viewing an antigay video by a house parent.
Dobson, 22, filed suit last year, seeking an unspecified amount in damages and remedial measures at the school. Dobson was enrolled in the school for several years prior to his expulsion in 2013.
Dobson alleges that school officials discriminated against him because of his depression — a condition that was exacerbated due to pressure from a house parent to change his sexual orientation.
“The Marchese incident is disturbing in its own right, and yet the school uses it to attack Mr. Dobson,” said John W. Schmehl, an attorney for Dobson. “Until the school faces the truth and takes responsibility for pushing this harmful video on our client, we will explore in discovery how far this practice stretched and what the administration knew about it. Mr. Marchese’s experience at the school just adds to the credibility of our allegations.”
Lisa Scullin, a spokesperson for the school, issued this statement: “These irresponsible descriptions of the experience of Mr. Marchese and Mr. Dobson are being used to create a sideshow to derail the case that is right now before the court. Sexuality was not a central part of the [Dobson] complaint. It is barely referenced in a 239-paragraph complaint against the school. Sexuality is a personal and powerful issue, and the current story infuses it into this case and distracts people from the facts at hand. The goal here is to manipulate and inflame — so the facts, being presented right now by both sides in the lawsuit, get glossed over. We try to instill all [of our] students with the school’s ‘Sacred Values.’ One of them is mutual respect. It guides our students and alumni to celebrate their uniqueness while always searching for ways we are similar to one another — not for ways to divide. For that reason, [the school] will continue to focus on defending the support it provides for children with mental-health needs. We spend over $15 million [annually] on health care alone, for children who would otherwise need to rely on government services. Our case is strong, and we are hopeful the media sideshow will not jeopardize it, as intended. Student confidentiality and the trust our families and alumni place in us to honor their privacy limits what we can say, and the other side knows that. It has always been — and remains — the policy of [the school] that no houseparent administers therapy of any kind to any student. Our highly credentialed psychologists are accredited by the American Psychological Association, and would never condone any form of ‘gay conversion therapy.’”
Scullin also released statements from several former students praising the school and refuting claims that students were pressured into watching antigay videos.
Jury selection in Dobson’s case is tentatively set for 9:30 a.m. April 2 at the Ronald Reagan Court House, 228 Walnut St. in Harrisburg, with U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner presiding.