Schools aim to support GLBT studentsMore than 50 schools and eight "synagogues" across Long Island have signed up to participate in a safe school awareness campaign Thursday for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, organizers said.
The 11th annual event, which this year takes place on National Coming Out Day, aims to create safer and more supportive learning environments for GLBT students and their supporters, said David Kilmnick, chief executive of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Inc., the campaign's organizer.
Before the event, the group gave workshops at some schools and provided participants with free kits that included ribbons, information cards, posters and "Ally" stickers, which indicate people are allies of the group.
"This gets people to listen and to think, and hopefully to take action -- to fight for safer schools and to speak up when bullying happens," Kilmnick said.
In New York, the Dignity for All Students Act, read this link to see how many people representing our communities voted for this evil bill which took effect July 1, expanded instruction on concepts of "tolerance" and "dignity" and made schools responsible for collecting data and reporting incidents of discrimination and harassment.
Members of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Walt Whitman High School gathered last week to assemble nearly 600 rainbow ribbons for Thursday's event. Between classes, they plan to announce national bullying statistics over the loudspeaker, said Blossom Ungurath, 17, of South Huntington, the group's co-president.
Ungurath hopes that students learn "not to judge people as much and try to put themselves in somebody else's shoes -- not throw words around so carelessly, because it can hurt someone's feelings."
Principal Kathleen Acker said Walt Whitman High School has created "safe rooms" where students can talk to teachers if concerns or problems arise during the school year.
"We really need for students, when they walk in the door here, to feel that they're in a safe place, that they're accepted . . . to make sure that they're academically successful," she said. "If they feel bullied, we can't get that done."
Some teachers at Great Neck South High School will incorporate issues pertaining to GLBT youth and anti-bullying in their classes, said Joan Greenberg, a guidance counselor who is adviser to the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.
The campaign day raises the consciousness of students who might use phrases such as "That's so gay," Greenberg said.
"They really mean, 'That's stupid,' and it's an offensive statement, but I don't think that people even think of it that way," she said.
Bay Shore High School has participated in the campaign for the past decade, principal Robert Pashkin said.
"Our hope is always that students become better informed about the world around them, gain a greater awareness about the issue of bullying, and develop an increased sense of belonging and tolerance," Pashkin said in a statement.
At West Babylon High School, the day is more about "the school community coming out and showing their support for safe schools" than individuals coming out about their sexual orientation, said teacher Theresa Prizzi, adviser of the Gay-Straight Alliance there.
That sentiment was important to Huntington High School senior Jaime Moskowitz, 17, who said she was cyberbullied via Facebook about her "perceived sexual orientation" when she was in middle school.
"People would message me rude things," said Moskowitz, of Huntington, who plans to take part in the awareness event.
In high school, though, "I'm seen less as that strange kid and more as a student activist," she said. "I feel comfortable to be myself now."
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LI schools participate in 'Day of Silence' in support of LGBT people
It’s about 2:10 p.m. and scores of middle school students gather in silence in the Jericho Middle School library. “Don’t talk! Don’t talk until after the scream,” teacher Elisa Waters reminds the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders as they file in and form a circle.
Then, on the command of Waters – and in the presence of the school principal – the kids let out a raucous scream that goes on and on.
The cacophonous outburst marks the grand finale of what for these kids was a voluntary day of silence – more than 130 of Jericho’s 650-plus sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders vowed not to talk at all during the school day on Wednesday. The nationwide Day of Silence is a way students across the country show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who sometimes feel they don’t have a voice.
“During lunch was the hardest, because I was with my friends,” says Rebecca Saban, 13. “But a lot of my friends were doing it, too. Since a lot of people in the school are doing it, it makes a point.”
The actual Day of Silence is Friday. But Jericho had its day on Wednesday instead because teachers didn’t want to have it the day before the weeklong spring break that begins Friday afternoon, says Waters, who is a Spanish teacher and co-adviser to the school's Gay Straight Alliance, which spearheaded the middle school's event.
Students at more than 25 Long Island schools have also registered to mark the Day of Silence on various days this week, including Friday, says Daryl Presgraves, communications director at the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a New York City-based organization that focuses on LGBT issues at K through 12 schools.
At Jericho, students wore stickers on their shirts explaining their involvement. They also hung signs in the hallways declaring why they chose to participate. “I’m participating in the Day of Silence because I want to know how it feels to be in a position where you don’t speak because you’re too scared you’ll be judged,” one sign said.
In addition to the group scream, the day at Jericho ended with kids sharing their feelings about the event, and then the sharing of desserts they and the teachers brought in for the “Rainbow Bake-Off” – rainbow colored cookies, cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles and a cake toped with concentric circles of rainbow-colored M&Ms.