Long Island PTA Chapter Will Exist Solely to Support Gay Teens and Be Totally Awesome

There’s a lot of pressure on school systems and communities to take some kind of concrete action on the ‘bullying epidemic’ that seems to be connected to the tragic suicides of children and teens. But what’s the right thing to do, especially when the stakes are so high? Some schools seem to be paralyzed in the face of putting together a complicated action plan; they turn a blind eye to students being bullied or in crisis, and chalk any conflict up to teenage melodrama. Some implement zero-tolerance policies; some have implemented ‘dress codes’ or measures meant to punish the “difference” that they feel bullying is a response to. Some have organized field trips to go see the film Bully. Some have even gone so far as to provide greater access to counseling and mental health services!

In Long Island, NY, the community is taking a different approach: a PTA chapter dedicated to the concerns of LGBT students. The group will “lobby for stronger anti-bullying measures that target gays, and seek to have the contributions of gays incorporated into curriculums,” according to David Kilmnick of the Long Island GLBT Services Network.

The PTA, or Parent-Teacher Association, exists to “foster parental involvement in schools.” It’s not uncommon for PTA chapters to serve and speak for special needs students. Apparently a PTA chapter dedicated to queer children’s needs has been tried once before, in Seattle, but was disbanded in 1999. But so far it looks like this project in Long Island might be something unique: an acknowledgement of the fact that parents, teachers, and schools all need to work together to stop bullying and keep kids from hurting other kids and themselves. Students don’t always have the opportunity to share their real needs and concerns with administrators; stories of areas with a bullying or suicide problem are full of students who say they filed complaints, but nothing was done. But when parents and adult community members begin to speak up, they’re more likely to be listened to. Membership to the chapter is open to anyone, and David Kilmnick says, “You don’t have to live on Long Island to join. You don’t have to be gay or have a kid who is gay… All you have to do is believe in the movement.”

All too often, the community reaction to teen suicides is to play a game of hot potato — it wasn’t the fault of the school administration because something should have been done by teachers, but it wasn’t the fault of teachers because this is the kind of thing parents should notice, and so on. The Long Island group doesn’t appear to have needed the impetus of kids losing their lives in order to realize that they need protecting, and that might require stepping up and taking responsibility to work together with other parts of the community. Maybe in that more than anything else, they’re setting an example for the rest of the nation — that we need to be ready to help and support our children even before they ask for it, because pointing fingers takes more time than we can afford.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 744 articles for us.

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    As a native Long Islander, I laughed when I thought “whoever wrote this is not from Long Island.” Because it’s not IN Long Island, it’s ON Long Island.

    Despite all of that, this is great. It’s not often I feel proud to say “Long Island” when someone asks where in NY I’m from. At least we’ve got this going for us!

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    I am from Long Island and was on the Safe Schools Team at L.I.G.A.L.Y (The Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth Center). LIGALY played a big role in starting the GayPTA. I know many of the lovely students and parents who helped create and are now on the GayPTA. I really do wish it had been around when I was in high school.

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    I just moved to the Garden City area (last August) and although I’ve been pretty blah about this whole Long Island experience, I’ve got to say that I’m pretty proud to live here at the moment! Can’t wait to see more of this in the future.

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