January 01, 1900

Tackling GLBT issues in Monroe-Woodbury

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Caption: Equality Forum's posters and lesson plans were an invaluable for educators during GLBT History Month this year.

Raising awareness about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender issues takes many forms in an educational setting: in clubs, classroom or contests, to name a few. It can have a powerful, transforming effect.

Using educational and awareness resources for GLBT issues, such as posters and lesson plans found at www.glbthistorymonth.com, Monroe-Woodbury Teachers Association member Anne Pavek set off a chain reaction in her school. A member of NYSUT's Civil and Human Rights committee, Pavek used posters with the school's Gay Straight Alliance and her colleagues, putting them around the school to help interest and educate others.

"The GSA I advise at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School, Purple Bridges, began the school year discussing the problems associated with stereotyping of Muslims and Mexicans that had been in the news often over the summer, and what their role could be in helping to end prejudice against them through educating their school community," Pavek said.

But when news broke of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student whose roommate, it has been reported, "outed" him on social networking sites after secretly filming him with another man, students became concerned about the role of others in tormenting him. They saw similarities of issues with other groups, Pavek said, and "wanted to come up with a simple message of acceptance and hope for all." They began putting up small purple signs around the school building that simply said, "It's OK to be different." They also made badges.

"Shortly after the large signs went up people began writing on them. The "OK" was crossed off and other words were written in: "awesome, outstanding, fabulous..." All words were positive. There are still many of these signs up. The students also put up posters with some positive quotes about strength, love and acceptance from famous LGBT people and a quote from Clementi's parents...'Our hope is that our family's personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity,'" Pavek said.

Students gave out purple and rainbow bracelets and put up a large banner painted with a purple ribbon that had about 15 of the posters of famous LGBT people from the GLBT History Month website framed in black, purple and pink.

The Purple Bridges members are "excited, thoughtful and passionate in their belief in equality and civil rights for all people," Pavek said. They bring topics they hear about on the news or have discussed with family and friends to meetings. Each member wants to make our school a better place and the world a better place for all people.

When Pavek showed them the poster of George Washington Carver, she said the group gasped and asked why they had never learned he was gay when they were studying him.

"I told them that when I was young, George Washington Carver was one sentence in my history book and now they learn so much about his inventions and the huge impact he had on our country. There are many books written about his genius and the great contributions he made. But, just like George Washington, we discuss what he did for his country, not so much his personal life and certainly not in elementary school!"

Posters and other educational materials are available at www.glbthistorymonth.com, where this year's icons for October's GLBT History Month are still posted. This year's winning icons include actors, composers and athletes. A new GLBT icon is featured each day with a video, biography, bibliography, images and other resources. Just click on the icon's name, corresponding with the day of the month. You can also embed the video player on your Web site, blog or social networking page. At the site, click on the "celebrate" link for other ideas.

GLBT History Month is endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association, and other national organizations. In 2006, Equality Forum assumed responsibility for GLBT History Month, The Forum also produces documentary films, undertakes high-impact initiatives and presents the largest annual national and international GLBT civil rights summit. For more information, visit www.equalityforum.com.

The GLBT community's History Month program teaches heritage, provides role models, builds community and makes the civil rights statement of extraordinary national and international contributions.

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