The Never-Ending Battles of LGBTQ+ Youth in NY Public Schools

Photo: Ali Soltan

By Ali Soltan

Aug 2, 2019

After spending every piece of time she had, the seventeen-year-old high school student finally finished hanging all of her Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) posters all over the halls of Leon M. Goldstein High School in order to promote the club. But when she was in the middle of walking up the stairwells to her first period class, she saw that one of the posters was noticeably taken down and nowhere to be found. It was disheartening for her to see, but knowing the students of the school, it wasn’t a surprise.

Over the years, NYC Public High Schools have made an effort towards making their environments safer as LGBTQ-related resources — whether they are supportive teachers or GSAs — have generally increased. Despite school efforts, however, bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ youth still persists.

And it’s not the fault of the school; it’s the students.

The GLSEN National School Climate Survey reported how a vast majority (87.3%) of LGBTQ+ students still experienced harassment or assault from their classmates based on their sexual orientation or gender expression, including name calling and physical harassment.

Some students of Leon M. Goldstein High School discussed just that. Two students of Goldstein have made continuous efforts in attempting to bring awareness to the LGBTQ+ community in their school. But before these efforts, certain students felt a certain way about the promotion of LGBTQ+ ideas in the school.

“So in the beginning of the year, I printed these posters for the GSA and we hung them. I used my lunch period for that,” the seventeen-year-old explained. “Someone posted a video on Snapchat of- it was someone ripping down our poster and throwing it in the garbage and [they] laughed. I think they got suspended,” she elaborated.

“Swastikas were drawn all over our posters,” the sixteen-year-old student added. This didn’t stop the students from continuing to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, but it was frustrating. They explain that due to the small size of the school, every separate community is squished together, which leads to conflict.

But that doesn’t mean students in larger schools don’t notice LGBTQ+ harassment. One student from Midwood High School explained how even though there’s more space to be yourself today, you “wouldn’t say that there is no discrimination whatsoever,”. They noted how friends their age would almost fetishize bisexuality and taunt them to kiss a person of the same gender.

A student from the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology mentioned more instances of LGBTQ+ harassment — explaining how a gay student who likes to play volleyball in their gym class wasn’t allowed by the other male students to play with them, and was told to “play with the girls”. That eroded his confidence and made him feel like he wasn’t good enough to audition for the volleyball team.

NYC Public High Schools are, for the most part, aware of these incidents, or at least that LGBTQ+ harassment is still a thing. But even though they attempt to be more inclusive in lessons by incorporating the LGBTQ+ community, or even by implementing stronger anti-bullying policies, what they actually need to teach is respect.

Jamie Nabozny, school safety advocate who won a Landmark Lawsuit in 1996 against his school for failing to protect him from being targeted and bullied for being gay, stresses the importance of teaching youth about morality especially in todays politcal climate.

“The LGBTQ community did not have a lot of political power, and it did not have a lot of visibility,” Nabozny explained. “Today LGBTQ youth grow up with more visibility, but at the same time, some people are debating whether they should exist or not,” he noted. Nabozny grew up during a time when being LGBTQ wasn’t talked about as often as it is today.

Though there is a lot more controversy surrounding the LGBTQ community today, there are enough positive steps in favor of the community — like the decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I think racism has always existed, homophobia has always existed, transphobia has always existed,” Nabozny stated. “The difference is when the president of the United States says things and thinks it’s okay to say those things, obviously, kids think it’s okay to say those things too,” he elaborated.

“I think schools have done a very good job of teaching kids how to have positive conversations in the past, on issues of gender equality or race,” Nabozny explained. “And I think it’s time that schools step up that role again and teach kids about respect.” Through a restorative justice system, students can learn why what they did was wrong, and make sure they don’t do it again, he thinks.

While schools hopefully work towards teaching students how to treat their peers respectively, the two students of Goldstein plan to continue to make their GSA more active by hosting more events and student-facilitated workshops, while continuing to grow and strengthen their community to protect their friends.

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