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Progress for LGBT kids in NYC public schools

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

There’s never been a comprehensive, citywide effort to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public school students and staff — or those who are unsure of their gender identities or sexuality. It’s been a hodgepodge of uncoordinated efforts, and it’s mostly voluntary.

Enter Jared Fox. He is the Department of Education’s new liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — a position that didn’t exist before this year. His goals are laudable. He hopes to create an inclusive curriculum that spans nearly every subject, rethink gender-based guidelines, establish a more hospitable workplace, and expand professional development for all staff, from secretaries and custodians to parent coordinators and principals.

It’s a shame it took so long for NYC to put these concerns on the front burner. One more for the “better late, than never” file. It’s been six years since 12-year-old Astoria public school student Elijah Mendez hanged himself, a decision his mother blamed on harassment from classmates who thought he was gay. Later that year, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana committed suicide for similar reasons. Then, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Quickly, Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign — an effort to give gay and lesbian youth hope — spread nationally.

But even as that spotlight grew, in NYC, little changed. The last available school survey, issued in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that students statewide said they’re still harassed and bullied, and schools still don’t offer the resources they need.

Thanks to a push from people like Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was once a city public school teacher and came out nearly 25 years ago, city officials have taken a first step. Now, we hope Fox gets support from the DOE bureaucracy to make a difference. He must develop a strategic plan, create curricula, clubs and welcoming environments in every school, establish standards across the system, and involve staff and parents. Then, perhaps, he can reach the children, who need education, support and love.


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