East Side Middle School Students Author Legislation to Support LGBTQ Student Groups Introduced by Council Member Kallos and Education Committee Chair Dromm
Student Gender-Sexuality Alliance Clubs in City Public School Progress Reporting
New York, NY – In response to a doubling in the number of hate crimes in New York City since last year, with anti-transgender incidents cited as a major cause according to the NYPD, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Education Chair Danny Dromm have introduced a pair of bills meant to expand Gender-Sexuality Alliance student clubs in the city’s Public Schools. The legislation was authored by East Side Middle School students who are representatives to the Manhattan Leadership Council.
Resolution 1442 authored by the students and introduced by Chair Dromm and Council Member Kallos calls on the Department of Education to launch and support functioning Gender-Sexuality Alliances at every middle and high school. Introduction 1638 also authored by the students and introduced by Council Member Kallos and Chair Dromm requires reporting on which schools have a GSA, whether existing clubs have a budget, what support the school is providing to the GSA, whether parents and teachers are involved, how frequently the GSA has met, and whether teachers have received GSA training.
Throughout the past two years the Manhattan Student Leadership Council (MSLC), a group comprised of student representatives from middle schools across School Distict 2 has met with many politicians, and two of its representatives Neil Sarkar and Katerina Corr even testified in front of the Education Committee of the City Council in October of 2016 on the topic of “Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination in NYC Schools – Protecting LGBT and Other Vulnerable Students.” The student leaders have also helped implement GSAs in all of the middle schools across their district. Following the hearing MSLC students met with the City Council Education Committee staff, Chair Dromm and Council Members Kallos to draft the legislation.
“The rise of hate crimes nationally and in the City means it is more important than ever that the City supports our LGBTQ youth through these student-run clubs,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “Thank you to Education Chair Danny Dromm for his lifetime of leadership on education and in the LGBTQ community, it is an honor to partner with him on this legislation. New York City has always been a leader on LGBTQ issues and that includes supporting our students.”
“GSAs are vital to the physical and mental well-being of LGBTQ students,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “By providing this support for LGBTQ students, we are ensuring that they get a quality education. GSAs are not only for gay students but for everyone who supports equal rights and safe spaces. I thank Council Member Kallos for his advocacy which will ensure that every public school has a thriving GSA. This has long been a priority for me.”
Every year, the Manhattan Student Leadership Council (MSLC) meets once a month to focus on an issue that affects schools citywide. In the fall of 2015, the students of the MSLC narrowed these issues down to three options: funding for the arts; equity in resources; and acceptance. The Council took these issues back to our individual schools for a vote. The schools realized that all the issues were important, but there was an overwhelming amount of votes for acceptance. The MSLC then decided, as a whole, that the best way to address the issue of acceptance was to implement GSAs in all public Middle Schools citywide.
“Every student deserves to openly be themselves, without fear or judgment getting in the way. We believe that implementing GSAs is the first step in achieving that,” said Chloe Schamisso, a Manhattan Leadership Council representative.
“A Gender and Sexuality Alliance is essential for creating a welcoming environment for students that are not able to access one at home. It is the responsibility of our schools to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students,” said Katerina Corr, a Manhattan Leadership Council representative.
“GSA’s are for everyone whether they are in the LGBTQ+ community or allies. Everyone is different in their own unique way and a GSA is a place where everyone can come together,” said Neil Sarkar, another student leader in the MSLC.
A Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is a student-run club that provides a safe place for LGBTQ students and their allies to meet, have discussions, offer support, and plan events and activities, usually with the aim of raising awareness. According to Advocates for Children of New York, the presence of a GSA in school decreases anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment and makes students feel safer and more comfortable.
Under the federal Equal Access Act (EAA), students have a right to start such clubs and schools may not prohibit students from starting or attending one provided there are other non-academic clubs at the school. All student clubs must be treated equally ensuring that GSA’s have the same access to school resources as other clubs.
According to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, (GLSEN) in their 2013 National School Climate Survey, “74% of students were verbally harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 55 % because of their gender expression. As a result of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable, 30 % missed at least one day of school in the past month.” However, “LGBT students in schools with an LGBT-inclusive curriculum were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation.”