Last year, over 60,000 Long Island students donned rainbow ribbons and ally stickers as they participated in Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth’s (LIGALY) 11th Annual National Coming Out Day (NCOD) School Awareness Campaign, making it the largest campaign since LIGALY began organizing it in 2002. Since 1993, LIGALY’s Safe Schools Initiative has worked with more than 100 of Long Island’s 127 public school districts to develop a school culture that fosters support, understanding, and respect for GLBT youth, families, and educators.
In lieu of recent events that have empowered the GLBT community, such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) being struck down, the youth are excited to launch this year’s campaign. LIGALY’s Youth Organizing and Leadership Coordinator, Jenilee Dowling, believes that the Campaign appeals to both people who identify as GLBT and allies–and to those that have never considered speaking up. Those who have never considered being an ally are finally gaining the awareness they need in order to “come out” to support a cause they were once afraid of backing.
“LIGALY’s National Coming Out Day Campaign is so important for youth–to have [that] opportunity to ‘come out’ in any way they need to in order to help them on their path to healthy adulthood,” Dowling remarked. “Just the existence of National Coming Out Day and the idea of having a specific day that youth know is a safe day to express who they are or what they support means a lot to youth everywhere–regardless of if they choose to actually ‘come out’ on that day or not.”
LIGALY’S NCOD Campaign calls on an entire school community to “come out” as advocates of safer schools: to help reduce levels of GLBT-related harassment and bullying. The Campaign encourages participants to make a statement and show their support of GLBT students by wearing a rainbow pin or ally sticker. LIGALY provides free campaign kits to participating schools that include the ribbons and stickers, as well as campaign posters and palm cards and a resource guide to assist students in implementing the campaign. Each year, the materials for the campaign are developed by LIGALY’s Safe Schools Team, a group of student leaders who are provided with specialized education and training to address anti-GLBT bullying in schools. LIGALY also provides free on-site training for student organizations hosting the Campaign.
This year, the LIGALY Advisory board (LAB), a youth leadership group that meets every Monday from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. at the GLBT Center at Bay Shore, is planning to have a special themed “OUTlet” that evening. In celebration of NCOD, LAB is planning a party called “National Coming OUTlet” on October 11th from 8 p.m.-12 a.m. This OUTlet invites youth to socialize with other youth who also participated in NCOD at their schools and to engage in activities in which they can tell their coming out stories in a safe space if they wish to do so.