Kalima McKenzie-Simms (left) with a Safe Schools Program team at IS 141Q in Queens
My name is Kalima McKenzie-Simms, and I am the Safe Schools Program Coordinator at PFLAG NYC. I am passionate about teaching youth in New York City schools about the LGBTQ — that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer — community as well as how to be a true, effective ally. Now that a new school year is beginning, I wanted to tell people about the Safe Schools Program from my perspective.
What Schools Get from the Safe Schools Program
Since the early 2000’s, the Safe Schools Program has been visiting schools, and making individual classroom presentations, sharing family stories of LGBT loved ones and personal experiences of coming out with students. Our wonderful volunteers are the heart of our program. Dozens of parents as well as LGBTQ people voluntarily speak to students about their experiences with coming out and coming to terms with either their own sexual orientation/gender identity, or learning to understand and accept that of their child.
The response that our program gets from school faculty and their students is so wonderful. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. In the early days, many schools were in denial about having gay students, much less transgender ones. They said that they had no need of a program to help LGBT kids feel safe and welcome, because they had no LGBT students. Now it’s different in that most schools recognize that they have students who are grappling with sexual orientation or gender identity, but what’s not different is that those students still need a lot of support in order to succeed and thrive.
At one school we visited, the counselor who hosted us told us:
“Your team brought our students such valuable insight and understanding of young person’s coming out — from the perspectives of both a parent and the gay person as well. Many students at this school don’t know how to find support and do not know how to begin such a ‘touchy’ conversation with someone. You laid the groundwork for them to feel comfortable. You were incredibly positive and strong role models for our students, not only ones struggling with coming out, but also with our straight students who can make such a difference with their classmates.” Read more »