New York public high school students had the day off Monday, but a group of about 630 students and teachers still gathered at Stuyvesant High School. They were participating in city’s first Gender and Sexuality Alliance summit, sponsored by the local Department of Education.
In the school’s auditorium, student whispers echoed from wall to wall. On stage, openly gay former professional football player Wade Davis told how he spent years as a closeted athlete, before eventually coming to terms with his sexual identity.
“When did you learn you were enough for yourself?” a teenager timidly stood up to ask him.
It’s been a bleak year for LBGTQ youth around the country. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people have creeped upwards. The Trump administration has worked to actively dismantle the rights of trans students.
But in New York, the education department has been working to help LGBTQ students better advocate for themselves.
The summit was organized by the city school district’s first LGBTQ community liaison, Jared Fox. It featured dozens of workshops on topics such as interacting with police, body image, grassroots organizing, and consent in sexual encounters. Classrooms were labeled with names of LBGTQ icons, like author James Baldwin and tennis star Billie Jean King. A school hang out spot became a coffee shop named for feminist writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde.
In a workshop hosted by LGBT New York Police Department officers, teens asked officers about their experiences being gay in the force.
“There’s a stereotype of what are you doing here, this is not the place for you,” said officer Aaron Ayala, before telling the students about the department’s internal fraternal societies.
“Ours is an adult GSA” (Gay-Straight Alliance club), Ayala said.
The day’s participants included middle school students. They did not have the day off from classes, so they attended as a field trip.
The afternoon’s events topped off with a drag queen story hour, dance party, and appearance by New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray.
“The number of young people who felt inspired and adults who never could have imagined something like this happening in their lifetimes was amazing,” Fox said.