A new school year has just begun in New York City, and the Safe Schools Program of PFLAG NYC will be there again this year to help schools make their school culture welcoming; to help lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people find support; and to teach all students how to be true friends and strong allies.
For more than a decade the Safe Schools Program has been visiting schools and making classroom presentations, sharing our personal experiences with students. Passionate community volunteers are the heart of our program. Dozens of parents and other relatives along with LGBT people speak to students about their experiences with coming out and coming to understand sexual orientation and gender identity, or learning to understand and accept that of a child or loved one.
Are you interested in volunteering? Find out more here.
Kalima McKenzie-Simms started as a volunteer speaker and now works as the Safe Schools Program coordinator. Here she shares some of her experiences with the program over the last four years:
In school after school, Safe Schools volunteers get an enthusiastic welcome. When I go into a school that I’ve been in before, I’m always amazed how many students will stop me in the hall and tell me they remember me and my story. That’s almost every school that brings in the Safe Schools Program has us come every year to speak with all their new students.
I began volunteering as a Safe Schools speaker in 2011 and I quickly fell in love with the program. As recent college graduate who identifies as lesbian, I was interested in activism and wanted to get involved. My first time speaking to a group of students, I was extremely nervous. I was basically coming out to a room full of 8th grade strangers, sharing memories with them about my first real crush, and how frightened I was because it was on my female best friend. I told them about how I overcame my fear of being who I was and how much of a role my friend played in that journey by accepting me when I came out to her.
As I got into my story, my nerves dissipated. Not only were they engaged by what I was telling them, but they had questions about how I felt when I was their age, and If I was still close to the people in the story. It felt amazing to know there could be one person in that small audience going through the exact same things I experienced when I was 13, and that by just telling them about a piece of my life and how I got through it, I was giving them hope.
That feeling I had on my first school visit, was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was helping to create change and watching it happen before my eyes.There were students who had no idea what to expect, and a percentage of them were probably skeptical when they first learned the topic of conversation. It is something that they had likely never discussed openly, especially in school. But as I spoke, I saw them relax and absorb my message: that one person’s acceptance and understanding can save literally a life.
Not only are students engaged by our presentations, but the teachers who invite us into their classrooms are grateful that we open the door to a respectful dialogue about the LGBTQ community.
The Safe Schools Program is growing and reaching more students every year. We are always looking for more volunteer speakers. Won’t you join like I did? Everyone has a story to share!