Judy Sennesh, founder of our TransFamilies Project, recently became the board chair of PFLAG NYC. As the end of the year approaches, she shared these reflections with the PFLAG NYC community. Please remember, donations from individuals are the largest source of support to keep our programs going and growing. Please donate today.
The headline caught my attention right away: “Gay and Lesbian High School Students Report ‘Heartbreaking’ Levels of Violence.” That’s how the New York Times reported on health among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) high school students from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August.
Sadly, the report confirmed much that I already knew: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people suffer disproportionately from risks no parent wants their child to go through. It also confirmed for me that the work that we’re doing at PFLAG NYC is as needed and as life-saving as ever.
Family Acceptance Is Critical
It’s been 18 years since my middle-school age daughter came out as a lesbian. And 12 years since that same child told me she was male and needed to “transition” so her body could match her sense of self. I was barely aware of the transgender community and needed information and friends walking in my shoes.
When I found my first PFLAG NYC meeting, I was able to connect with other families to share my concerns, trade information, and find lasting friendships. Even today, parents can be as lost as I was when I found out. From just one group when I joined, we now have six vital groups for parents and I’ve seen hundreds of families helped by PFLAG NYC.
Half the Battle
Family is only half the battle. Schools are where our kids spend their days, and some findings from the CDC report are indeed heartbreaking:
- 34% of LGB teenagers are bullied at school.
- 10% of LGB students skip school each month because they feel unsafe.
- 60% of LGB students report feeling so sad they stopped their usual activities.
How can LGBT kids succeed in school and go on to be successful adults under these circumstances? These statistics are painful to me as the mother of an LGBT child, but I have seen how PFLAG NYC has been able to bring change to the schools that work with our Safe Schools Program.
In the beginning — ten-plus years ago — I saw how members of our Safe Schools team would reach out to schools and be told, “there are no gay kids in our school.”
Now, school personnel have come to recognize how important it is to address the bullying, name-calling and harassment of LGBT students and we struggle to keep up with the demand.
In 2016, the Safe Schools Program spoke to almost 6,000 NYC middle- and high-school students, as well as staff and teachers, about bullying, homophobia, and transphobia. The reactions from students has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers tell us we change the climate in their school.
The Struggle Is Not Over
Recent years have brought so much progress for LGBT equality. Our PFLAG families have helped advance it.
But many are now filled with fear that the civil rights of LGBT people are at risk anew.
From the SPLC we have learned that since the election 80% of educators report heightened anxiety among marginalized students, including those who are LGBT.
We need now, more than ever, to stand together to protect and support the people we love. Family acceptance is the key factor in having happy and healthy LGBT kids. Safe schools can help ensure their future.