South Orangetown Central School District

On November 18, the Family Engagement Center hosted a panel presentation with speakers from Rockland PFLAG and CANDLE on LGBTQIA+ topics. The goal of the event was to provide South Orangetown students, families and staff with an opportunity to learn and ask questions in a safe and welcoming environment.

Guest speakers shared their stories in a frank discussion about gender identity, sexual orientation and ways to support LGBTQIA+ youth. “We want to see a world where our children are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” noted Mimi, a PFLAG representative. The organization is comprised of parents, families, friends and allies committed to creating a better future for LGBTQIA+ youth and adults.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to create a safe, inclusive environment built on a culture of respect for our differences, this forum provided all of us with an opportunity to come together and discuss ways to build support for our students and families in the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services Karen Tesik.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, LGBTQIA+ youth are more likely to have poor health outcomes than heterosexual peers. In fact, the Trevor Project reports that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and attempts by LGB and questioning youth are four to six times more likely to result in an injury or overdose which requires medical treatment compared to their straight peers.

Key protective factors linked to positive health outcomes for LGBTQ youth through research studies include inclusive health education, school-based GSAs (also known as gay-straight alliances or gender sexualities alliances) and family acceptance.

Over the past several years, the District has worked to promote a welcoming, inclusive school culture for all students, including LGBTQIA+ youth. GSAs at both South Orangetown Middle School and Tappan Zee High School are actively engaged in educating their school communities, supporting LGBTQIA+ peers and advocating for services. Collaboration between the TZHS GSA and district administrators led to the renovation of a gender-neutral bathroom at the high school last summer.

“We are trying to provide mirrors and windows for our students. That is, we are working to make sure all of students can see themselves represented in our curriculum and also giving students an opportunity to learn about different perspectives and cultures beyond their own,” said Cottage Lane Elementary School Principal Karen Ramirez, who attended the panel discussion. “Creating an inclusive environment is something that we’ve really focused on building at Cottage Lane. We’re growing global citizens. It’s important to introduce our students to the many different people they will encounter in the world.”

Ramirez noted that Columbia University’s Teachers College recently reviewed and expanded its texts in response to criticism that readings did not adequately reflect marginalized communities represented in many of the schools using its Reading & Writing Project curriculum. That effort spurred CLE to take action, as well. “We worked closely with our Community Connections group here to stock our new library with literature featuring characters and storylines that portray a diversity of life experiences,” Ramirez noted.

A broad array of counseling and referral resources are available through each school’s Student Support team. Students and families are encouraged to reach out to their School Counselor to access help.

Local resources for LGBTQIA+ youth and families:

Families Share Experiences at LGBTQIA+ Discussion