Do you remember the first time you saw someone who was part of the LGBTQ+ community? Depending on how old you were or how many LGBTQ+ people you had unknowingly encountered, your reaction may differ. I grew up in the Bronx with a very religious family that despite considering themselves “True Liberals” did not allow any mention of any of the LGBTQ+ community in their home. It wasn’t until I snuck up late and watched an episode of Will and Grace that I saw LGBTQ+ representation– I was instantaneously drawn to the character Jack. I had heard the term “gay” before but only spewed as an insult and never presented as a badge of honor the way the character on the show wore his queerness. At that point, I had no idea what my sexual orientation was – but did know I related to that specific character.
It was years later before I truly understood why “Jack” mattered so much to me. Seeing an LGBTQ+ person on screen being free to be himself showed a young queer boy that I should and could be just as free. Over the years in high school, I found myself looking for more LGBTQ+ representation but often coming up short. Now more than ever, representation matters. Students need more than anything to see themselves represented in books, movies, shows, and out in the world – even if it’s through a mask and a window.
During this pandemic, the role of our office and the work I do has become abundantly clear: to make our students feel safe and affirmed inside and beyond the classroom. Our office is working closely with social workers, guidance counselors, community partners, and parents to make sure all of our students are being affirmed or supported regardless of their sexuality, their gender identity or even their gender expression.
We are developing trainings, LGBTQ+ author visits, movie festivals, Stonewall Inn virtual tours, meetup groups, even drag queen story time so our students and teachers see themselves represented and know that they are truly appreciated! To find out more about these events, please visit www.schools.nyc.gov/lgbtq or email me directly at LGBTQ@schools.nyc.gov.
Eric Vaughan is the LGBTQ Program Manager at the NYC Department of Education.