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Letter: LGBT Youth Issues Should Be Addressed More Aggressively

"We have an obligation to protect our children from the dangers of intolerance and violence," writes Zachary Baum.

January 25 was “National GSA Day,” which is a day devoted to celebrating the efforts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and their allies to foster communication and awareness of LGBT issues.  According to the National School Climate Survey, 9 out of 10 LGBT students will face harassment because they are – or are perceived as being – openly LGBT. Two thirds of LGBT students feel unsafe in schools because of their sexual orientation, and every year hundreds of LGBT youths will take their lives. Especially in light of the numerous suicides that have recently taken place, these statistics must be addressed.

As a community, Three Village should hold itself to a higher standard than these unacceptable national averages. We have an obligation to protect our children from the dangers of intolerance and violence, and to protect our families from the trauma of senseless, preventable deaths. All children deserve the opportunity to go to school without being teased and tormented for who they are.  Public schools should be a place for learning, discovery, and mutual respect, not hatred and prejudice. The solution to this crisis starts with promoting diversity in every home, but it cannot end there. The social environment of a school is largely dependent on the tone set by its leaders. Therefore, it behooves teachers and school administrators to educate students about bullying and discrimination, and to take action when harmful situations arise.

It is my hope that more people will stand up to injustices within schools: without community support, there is no way of moving forward. Issues of LGBT student welfare and the promotion of gay and straight alliances are seldom discussed in Three Village’s public forums. This is particularly unfortunate, for the development of such organizations can provide readily accessible solutions to a growing problem. If we are to expect solutions to our more complex challenges we must first seek to solve the ones where we have solutions at our fingertips.

As a graduate of Ward Melville’s class of 2011, I was bullied for being perceived as gay. I know what it’s like to be harassed for something that is beyond one’s control. I also know that I’m not alone, and as I write this, there are dozens of students who are scared to go to school tomorrow because of what they face day in and day out. Though I was unable to live openly as a student in Three Village, others should not have to repress their identities and live in fear. It’s unfair that so many students like myself feel the need to wait until they go to college to truly express themselves.

It’s one thing to have zero tolerance policies on the books; another thing to enforce these policies. No student should be bombarded with anti-gay slurs, harassment, or derogatory language.  It’s time to change the tone. If Three Village schools want to remain a place of excellence, then we all must do our part in ensuring that every student is treated with the acceptance and respect they need in order to reach their full academic potential.

Finally, I want to speak directly to the LGBT youth of our community, whose struggles and aspirations I have shared; it really does get better. We are truly at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history and there’s never been a better time to be LGBT in America. You will find friends that will accept you for the wonderful and beautiful person you are. You will find genuine and loving relationships. You will be able to treasure all the joys of life that everyone else does. Don’t ever tell yourself that you’re anything less than the perfection of life. Trust me on this, as I and millions of others can attest to it. In the days, weeks and months ahead, I will be working with local civic leaders, student leaders, educational leaders, and political leaders to make Three Village a better place for LGBT youth. Together we can make Three Village a haven of hope and inclusiveness.

Zachary Baum

Aric Markl January 26, 2012 at 10:31 PM
It is never less alarming to me, no matter how many times I encounter it, when I discover how cruel people are to one another. I have been told time and again that people hate because they feel some flagrant deficiency within themselves; that this fault is perceived as needing to be compensated for, and compensation for these hateful people, these bullies, is found in abusing others as they themselves feel abused. But it would seem that this abuse is disproportionately concentrated toward the LGBT community. I have personally experienced this exact kind of hatred in my middle school years when I attended an all-boys Catholic school. I discovered that I was targeted because I stood out the most. And the trait that got their attention was the combination of the pitch of my voice and my participation in the arts. I fit into a stereotype that had received a lot of direct negative attention in society dating back to before the 1930's in the US. Thus, not only did society condone the gay slurs that were hurled at me every day, but so did many of the parents themselves condone them; they who had grown up with the same hateful message. My point is this; I wholeheartedly support your goal of inclusiveness and sanctuary for those without a safe haven. But once you find you've accomplished that goal, we cannot forget that there is still a long way to go. So let us always keep an eye on our final destination, even as we count the passing miles.
Orion Falcor Sugar January 26, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Great article Zach. It is truly wonderful to see that there are people out there who care.
Diana January 26, 2012 at 11:23 PM
What a beautifully written article Zach! You have brought tears to my eyes! Way to go!! You are very special!!
Laura Chang January 27, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Wow! You really know how to express your feelings to a topic you are clearly so passionate about! It takes a lot of bravery and courage to do this and you don't let that get in your way! Keep up what your doing!
Marie January 27, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I have no doubt that the Three Village School District and other districts will embrace your message of hope and will continue to do all that they can to change the anti gay climate that exists. What a courageous young man and an inspiration to many!
prof mom January 27, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Bravo Mr. Baum!!
lisa reilly January 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Great Article Zach!
Jonathan Cohen January 27, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Zachary, your courage and strength are inspiring. I graduated from WMHS in 1996 and I remember many of the issues you described being prevalent even then. People like you, who see the world as it should be, will ultimately change our world for the better. Bigotry of the kind you experienced has no place in our society.
Alexandra January 27, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Its great to see such passion about such an important issue, glad to see you working hard to make changes in our schools. We need more people like you to stand up for all those that don't have as much courage, keep on working hard!
Raissa January 27, 2012 at 08:41 PM
It is not only gratifying to read this article, but also to see the positive, supportive comments here.
Brenda January 28, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Bigotry of any kine needs to be obliterated.......Bravo to Zachary!!!
Brenda January 28, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Bigotry of any kind needs to be obliterated......Bravo to Zachary!!
Joey January 28, 2012 at 04:56 AM
THANKS FOR BEING A VOICE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TO REMAIN SILENT. YOUR STRONG CONVICTIONS, PERCEPTIVE INSIGHTS, AND DOABLE SOLUTIONS ARE ADMIRABLE. ALL CHANGE STARTS WITH JUST ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME....YOUR LETTER IS FULL OF HOPE WITH A CLEAR VISION FOR A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL. ~JOEY
Ellen Koenig January 28, 2012 at 04:58 AM
Kudos to you, Zach, for a well-written article. May you never question your well-deserved sense of self-worth. The courage you have shown in order to act as a beacon for others struggling with self-image should make you and your parents proud!!
Grace Ratto January 28, 2012 at 05:43 AM
So eloquently written and heartfelt Zach. Good for you for taking a stand for others who do not feel they have the support they need to do so. To care that much after you have already graduated is testament to who you are in the world. It is an honor to know you.
Maria DePalo Seagraves January 28, 2012 at 02:01 PM
It is nice to see such a well written article from a former student who clearly knows the issues that are out there in the schools. Hopefully the right people will read this, the ones who need to make the necessary changes in school policy...and enforce them. Great article, Zach
tara kahn January 28, 2012 at 03:23 PM
You are very brave and I commend you for being so courageous!! Keep fighting for what you believe in!!
Myrna G. January 28, 2012 at 03:37 PM
A STANDING OVATION FOR YOUR INSIGHT AND THE COURAGE OF YOUR CONVICTIONS.............BRAVO TO YOU, YOUNG MAN!!!
Jeffrey Baum January 28, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Way to go my son! A very well written, thought-out article expressing what I'm sure so many other teens and young adults face each and every day as they wake up and look at themselves in the mirror and ask when will be the day that I feel comfortable and safe to be my true self. Keep on moving this issue forward and always speak the truth for equality, safe-living, and a society that promotes acceptance of all!
Justin DeMarco January 28, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I'm very proud of you, Zach! You're wise beyond your years.
Marisa DeMarco January 28, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Zach, you are an innovator and out of the box thinker...always holding true to what you believe! Your story will inspire so many, many more people to come. Thank you for sharing your experience and being so brave.
Victor January 29, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Those who bully are cowards. They do it secretly. Those who speak out, like the young person who wrote the above letter are the brave ones who speak out for many. The fortitude of those who speak out are to be commended, big time!!!
Anonymous January 29, 2012 at 04:27 AM
As an alum, class of 2000, I can with 100% certainty state three village is a horrible district for lgbt equality and tolerance...I commend you for writing the article and I hope your voice is heard!
Raissa January 29, 2012 at 05:54 AM
I briefly taught in 3VSD in the '90s and was happy to see LIGALY invited to speak. Took my class. When I taught at Rocky Point after that, they would not have them come in. There is much, much work to be done to fight discrimination in our high schools, but as Victor pointed out, the bullies do not spew their venom in front of teachers.
Jackie Kramer January 29, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Zack, It is great that you are fighting for what you truly believe! I think that is wonderful ! Keep up the good work ! Jackie
Paul January 29, 2012 at 02:13 PM
As a Florida educator, I applaud you for your stance and willingness to do the work where it counts the most; in our public schools. May your eloquence inspire many to hear and abide by the necessary messages of tolerance and respect for all.
prof mom January 29, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Of course, learning to respect others starts in the home. Glad to see your support for your son! A job well done dad!
carrie January 29, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Best of luck to you Zack in your efforts to make Three Village a better place for LGBT youth. I am certain that your article has already reached many people and given them much needed encouragement and support. Congratulations to you for your courage and committment.
Adam March 14, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Zack. Very impressive article and you are clearly wise beyond your years. We need more people like you as you truly make a difference.

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