A Safe Schools Speaker Shares His Experience in the Huffington Post

Aundaray Guess is one of our most active speakers in the Safe Schools Program. He now has four years under his belt visiting schools with PFLAG NYC. A program manager at GMAD, Aundaray is also an actor and producer. If you ever see one of his Safe Schools presentations, you would immediately recognize his flair for the performing arts. Aundaray mesmerizes students not only with the drama of his personal experiences, but with his body language and facial expressions that make his storytelling vivid and engaging. Every student can feel what it is like to walk a day in Aundaray’s shoes.

Aundaray is a featured blogger for the Huffington Post, and his newest post is about his experience as a Safe Schools speaker. It’s been eye-opening for him, not only for the situations he encounters in schools, but also for his learning that PFLAG NYC is doing a whole lot more than he once believed. Here we share some of his observations. You can read entire thing on the Huffington Post.

Waving My PFLAG

As I and several other adults prepared to speak to the high school class, for a moment I felt like I was once again a high school student as the feelings that are associated with high school revisited me. Standing in front of all those eyes — young eyes, some tired eyes, some indifferent eyes and some eyes that said, “Who the hell are you, and why should I care?” — I started to wonder, “Will I fit in? Will they like me?” For some odd reason a hoodie-clad young man who sat in the back gave me the most pause. He had an intense look that permeated the room, with a specific focus that I felt was directed at me. It was too late to run, so I simply started my presentation.

Hello,” I said. “I am here with PFLAG, and I’m going to share my story of being gay.” And there it was: I’d opened the gate, and it was too late to turn back now. Borrowing a line from the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime,” I asked myself, “How did I get here?”…

My experience with the [Safe Schools Program of PFLAG NYC] debunked many of my preconceived notions. I once believed that PFLAG was only for white parents, but since getting involved, I have been introduced to a new, multicultural group of people with shared experiences. Even when I was asked to speak to students, I assumed that I would be speaking at elite schools full of tolerant students, but that has been far from the case.

In fact, we have spoken in neighborhoods ranging from what I call “the good zip codes” to some of the toughest neighborhoods, where intolerance often runs high. That’s where I was as I shared my life experiences with the hoodie-sporting guy’s class. I had doubts when I was asked to speak there, as the school is in a neighborhood where there have been several gay bashing incidents that made the local news. As we made our way to the school, I was asking myself whether I was crazy to have agreed to go there, but then I thought of the LGBT youth who live in these neighborhoods and feel like they don’t have allies or people who understand, who see no reflections of themselves beyond the media, who wonder what this thing called “gay” is. Knowing I could make a difference gave my steps a purpose. My story is their story, and only by sharing my experiences could I help bring down the walls of intolerance.

I told them about my fears of my family and friends learning that I was gay. I related my experience of walking around wearing a figurative mask, feeling like I could never be myself. I was even able to talk about the complexity of being a gay person of color, and about the difficulty of learning at a young age how sexual identity and race intersect. That topic seemed to make a great impression, as I was speaking to a class filled with students of color.

For my part, I learned that the fact that an area may be considered “low-income” doesn’t mean that everyone there is homophobic. Indeed, many of the students in the tougher neighborhoods we’ve visited have shared stories about gay family members whom they love unconditionally. Some of these students have even proudly professed their own sexuality and joined the chorus of PFLAG volunteers by telling their peers about the importance of accepting people for who they are…

Help PFLAG NYC Send More Speakers Like Aundaray to More Schools

Read Aundaray’s full account of his Safe Schools experiences on his blog at the Huffington Post. Find out the surprise he got from that hoodie-clad young man…

Recruiting and training gifted speakers like Aundaray and booking the engagements that get them into schools in front of young audiences is just one of the ways that PFLAG NYC uses donations from generous supporters. Please help us keep the Safe Schools Program going and growing.

Make a donation to PFLAG NYC now.