The Long Island Gay Parent Teacher Association (LI-Gay PTSA) is beginning the Fall 2013 school year, focusing on moving Long Island schools from tolerance to affirmation. The LI Gay PTSA was chartered in April of 2012 and became the first GLBT-focused Parent Teacher Association in the nation.
“Since it is not confined to one specific school district, The Long Island Gay PTSA is in a unique position to be able to mobilize diverse communities, including parents and families, students, teachers and school staff, as well as youth-serving providers and community members from across Long Island dedicated to effecting positive change for GLBT students,” stated Kerrie O’Neill, Director of Programs for The Long Island GLBT Services Network.
Part of the action plan for the 2013-14 school year aims to educate and train school-based PTAs in every elementary, middle, and high school in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The LI Gay PTSA will continue this education and training until every GLBT student on Long Island has the opportunity to reach his or her full academic and social potential in a school that is not only safe, but is supportive and affirming of their GLBT identities.
One of its members, Roy Schmitt, a retired principal, father, and grandfather of five, spoke to the importance of changing the curriculum in Long Island schools to be more inclusive of GLBT history. He referred back to the early 1990s when the “Rainbow Curriculum,” designed to teach tolerance on New York City’s many races, ethnicities, and sexualities, was met with homophobic pushback from local school boards.
“We have come a long way, but there is still little discussion of gay families in elementary schools, and more needs to be done,” said Schmitt, a gay parent who raised two daughters in Merrick.
“Moving from tolerance to acceptance to affirmation is a very important journey for our culture and our society in general,” Schmitt asserted, as his infant granddaughter murmured in his arms. “It’s so important for kids to know that they’re okay and that the system supports them and affirms them.”
Christine Kryjak, co-president of the group and resident of West Babylon, also spoke to the need for schools to create additional Gay Straight Alliances in both high schools and junior highs, so that young GLBT students have a place to go.
“It’s a place for parents with questions to go before they go to their school,” Kryjak said of the LI Gay PTSA.
The group will continue doing outreach to parents, teachers, and students to join their group, and are very optimistic about their ability to create a more GLBT-friendly Long Island.
“When people see that you’re a caring and concerned parent, that’s what they care about most,” Kryjak concluded. “Everything else is secondary.”