100,000. That's why we're in schools.
Let's lay out some numbers for you. Hope you're not drinking water, because they may surprise you. The facts are that up to 10% of people are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). There are 1,000,000 (one million.) kids in NYC public schools. This means that in our public schools, there are up to 100,000 kids who are in a range from unknowing to struggling to confidently displaying their sexual orientation, and it's not the orientation this world deems "normal." So 100,000 kids. That is why we, PFLAG NYC, are in schools.
We go to schools and share our personal stories in order to challenge and charge these kids to be respectful and aware. After attracting the attention with the celebrities of the Stay Close Campaign, we ask for a show of hands for how many know someone who is LGBT - the entire class raises their hands. We ask to leave them up if someone in your family is gay - we still have a handful, in fact about 1/3 of the class, traditionally. For the demographic we are reaching, this is an intriguing number when you consider the machismo tradition of Latino culture, specifically. For many of these students, their homes are not accepting of different sexual orientations, so school is their outlet for expression or confidence. School should be a place where people feel safe; yet this is not always the case for LGBT youth in NY public schools. This is why I challenge the students to speak with dignity and respect, removing words like "gay" and "retarded" from their common slang or jokes. This use of derogatory vocabulary and jokes is horrible and can be affecting more people than they realize.
In my family, we were able to accept my sister Sarah's sexual orientation and we didn't have to back-pedal to think "Oh no, did I say something or make a joke that offended her?" This is what I challenge these kids to do: Speak with dignity so that in the surprisingly likely event that one of their friends will later come out to them, they don't have to do the back-pedaling and apologizing that so many people must. This is what being a true ally is all about: creating an inclusive environment that is respectful and safe for everyone. The bottom line is respect. Regardless of your opinion, I think we can all agree that all people deserve that.
I don't have photos from these events, just my memories of interesting trips to the Bronx in my heels. But here are some websites that you can learn more about our program. If you have a school or organization you would for us to visit, please contact me at MissJubilee2009@gmail.com and we will be glad to set up a visit.
PFLAG NYC Safe Schools Program
Tips for Professionals Who Work with Gay Youth