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.