Students at Long Island schools marked National Coming Out Day three days early on Friday since the LGBT awareness event held annually on Oct. 11 this year falls on Sunday, when schools are closed.
Long Island LGBT Services Network staffers fanned out to 83 local schools—up from 60 schools last year—as a part of a campaign that includes seminars to talk about the issues and handing out palm cards detailing statistics such as 80 percent of LGBT kids reporting being bullied either at school or on their way in the past year.
“I’d really like to see every single school on Long Island have a [Gay-Straight Alliance],” said David Kilmnick, CEO of the nonprofit group. “We really want to start educating from the earliest age about diversity and different kinds of families. I think everyone in schools needs to be talking about these issues and have things in place to support the students, their friends and families.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, 2016 Republican presidential candidates are promising to change laws and policies reversing LGBT equality—suggesting that despite gains, equality remains elusive.
“After all, we are in the business of education,” said one Suffolk County school employee, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media. “So, why not extend education to social and emotional issues?”
As a part of the campaign, more than 80,000 students—LGBT youths and allies alike—are walking from class to class through colorful poster-plastered hallways, proudly donning rainbow ribbons or supportive ally stickers.
“I think in general,” Kilmnick continued, “when there’s a high visibility of anything LGBT, people think we have an agenda. The only agenda is making sure every kid is safe in school.”
With all the gradual change in society, coming out seems like a fading necessity. Kilmnick, however, doesn’t think so.
“There’s still an assumption that everyone is heterosexual.”
It’s called “sexual profiling”—the assumption of someone’s sexual orientation—and it actually works both ways: straight masculine women or feminine men presumed as homosexuals or, as Kilmnick described, simple things such as restaurants mistakenly bagging a same-sex couple’s leftovers in separate bags.
“It’s innocent but very telling,” said Kilmnick. “That may be hard for some people to understand, but it’s those little actions that still say a lot. We still have a long way to go and until people change their minds and don’t make assumptions about people’s sexual orientation, people will always need to come out.”
In the meantime, awareness and education through efforts like the National Coming Out Day awareness campaign hope to address these and other issues.
While many public locations such as libraries host Gay-Straight Alliances, Kilmnick advised anyone – student or staff – interested in starting a GSA club to reach out to the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Network through their website or to call their Bay Shore office at 631-665-2300.