‘Don’t Turn Homophobia Into Islamophobia,’ Mourners at Queens Vigil Plead

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on June 13, 2016

Councilman Danny Dromm holds up a sign in support of the Muslim community after the deadly shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12. The suspect reportedly called police to declare his loyalty to the Islamic State after shooting 50 people at a gay nightclub. Photo credit: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

Councilman Danny Dromm holds up a sign in support of the Muslim community after the deadly shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12. The suspect reportedly called police to declare his loyalty to the Islamic State after shooting 50 people at a gay nightclub.
Photo credit: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

JACKSON HEIGHTS — Standing in the center of Diversity Plaza, a crowd of locals and community leaders vowed Sunday to stay united after 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Flanked by signs reading “Don’t turn homophobia into Islamophobia and war,”Councilman Danny Dromm joined other mourners in the heart of Jackson Heights, the most diverse zip code on the planet, which features both a large Muslim and LGBTQ community.

“I wanted to be sure that nobody divides us,” said Dromm, who organized the vigil within hours of the attack, in which police say gunman Omar Mateen pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State before carrying out the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

For Dromm, and for the more than two dozen people who spoke at the vigil, the focus was on the community’s unity and strength after another tragedy. Diversity Plaza has hosted both the Queens Pride Festival and Ramadan celebrations — both of which are being celebrated in June.

“No matter what happens, nobody will divide us,” he said. “Nobody will pit LGBT people against Muslim people, or against anybody.”

The emotional vigil featured tables of flowers and lit candles; many cried as people spoke to denounce the attack.

St. Pat’s for All parade organizer Brendan Fay said he wept when reading the news.

He said he carried fear in his heart — because he knows what it’s like to be denounced “from pulpits, from books, on the streets.”

“But also, I know what it’s like to find hope,” he said through tears.

“We send from this place a love to all of those that have nothing but grief and loss,” he said.

“May the love from this place go forth and help overcome prejudice and hate in our streets, in our communities and our nation. May love prevail.”

Read more here.

Dancing and Drag Performances Planned for Pride Prom at Queens Museum

By Katie Honan

Originally published by DNAinfo on May 19, 2016

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

Lady Quesadilla will host Pride Prom at the Queens Museum.

CORONA — Eat, dance and enjoy being your fabulous self at next week’s Pride Prom, which offers a do-over for those who felt excluded from their own high school celebration.

The free event, which will be held Tuesday, May 24 at the Queens Museum, will feature prizes, music from DJ Yayo and performances by host Lady Quesadilla.

The idea is to offer a safe place for celebration, for people of all ages, according to organizers.

“A proper rite of passage for individuals of all ages, this celebration is for anyone who is currently being shut out of their prom, was excluded in the past or simply did not feel welcome to be themselves,” the event’s listing page says.

City Councilman Danny Dromm — who organized the borough’s first pride parade — is the special guest.

The prom is open to everyone, young and old, who wants to celebrate themselves and others.

The event sponsored by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Hispanic Federation, with support from Make the Road New York, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, The Hetrick-Martin Institute and other groups.

You can register for the event here.

Read more here.

Boycott Queens Ctr. Chick-fil-A: Dromm

By Christopher Barca

Originally published by the Queens Chronicle on May 5, 2016

PHOTO BY MARK TURNAUCKAS / FLICKR.   Popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A will open a restaurant in the Queens Center mall this fall. Councilman Danny Dromm has called for a boycott of the location, citing company leadership’s past verbal and financial support of anti-LGBT groups.

PHOTO BY MARK TURNAUCKAS / FLICKR.
Popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A will open a restaurant in the Queens Center mall this fall. Councilman Danny Dromm has called for a boycott of the location, citing company leadership’s past verbal and financial support of anti-LGBT groups.

The Queens Center mall is packed with restaurant options, be it fast food or sit-down dining.

Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) wants hungry shoppers to avoid one location when it opens later this year: Chick-fil-A.

After published reports said Saturday that the popular fast-food eatery will open its first outerborough location inside the mall this fall, Dromm slammed the company on Monday over its leadership’s past comments condemning same-sex marriage and financial contributions to organizations that supposedly sponsor anti-LGBT causes.

“Chick-fil-A is anti-LGBT,” Dromm said in a statement. “I am deeply disturbed that Chick-fil-A continues to give 25 percent of their charitable contributions to anti-LGBT organizations, including over $1 million to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.”

According to reports published in 2012, the WinShape Foundation — created by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his family — had given millions of dollars in donations and grants over the years to groups such as the Marriage & Family Foundation and the National Christian Foundation, many of which were criticized as being anti-LGBT by gay and lesbian advocacy organizations.

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the federal definition of marriage as being only between one man and one woman was unconstitutional, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy tweeted it was a “sad day” for the nation and that the Founding Fathers would be “ashamed” of the decision.

In the years since the comments, Chick-fil-A and the WinShape Foundation have ceased giving funds to such groups with the exception of a $1 million donation the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization that demands prospective ministry leaders condemn “impure lifestyles” like homosexuality in order to be hired, among other issues.

Dromm hammered Chick-fil-A for its continued relationship with the FCA, calling Monday on shoppers to boycott the eatery and the Queens Center mall to reconsider its contract with the company.

“This group imparts a strong anti-LGBT message by forcing their employees and volunteers to adhere to a policy that prohibits same-sex love,” he said. “It is outrageous that Chick-fil-A is quietly spreading its message of hate by funding these types of organizations.

“I hope that the Queens Center mall will reconsider giving a company so deeply invovled in anti-gay discrimination a lease on their property,” he continued. “Believers in equality should boycott these purveyors of hate.”

Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Desiree’ Fulton fired back on Tuesday, saying the restaurant does not discriminate against LGBT employees or customers and no longer financially assists anti-gay groups.

“Our intent is not to support groups with political agendas,” Fulton wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “The Chick-fil-A Foundation gives 100 percent of its dollars to programs supporting youth, education and the local communities in which our restaurants operate.

“The Chick-fil-A Foundation partners with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes,” she continued, “specifically to provide free summer sports camps for hundreds of young students in urban environments throughout the nation.”

A spokesman for Macerich, Queens Center mall’s management company, had no comment on Dromm’s remarks, but said work on the Chick-fil-A location has begun and the new addition to the food court should open “sometime in the fall.”

Speaking at an unrelated press conference at the 105th Precinct in Queens Village on Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio criticized the eatery’s leadership for its previous comments and financial donations, but said he doesn’t agree with Dromm on a possible boycott of the location.

“It is a country in which people have a right to open a business,” de Blasio said. “What the ownership of Chick-fil-A has said is wrong. I’m certainly not going to patronize them and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them, but they do have a legal right.”

Read more here.

Dromm To Highlight Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Tests

By Michael Florio

Originally published in the Jackson Heights Post on April 1, 2016

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The New York State English Language Arts exams are set to take place next week and Council Member Daniel Dromm wants parents to know they have options.

Dromm will be hosting a meeting on Sunday at noon in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office, located at 78-02 37th Ave., where he will alert parents that they have the option of allowing their children to opt out of the test.

“I want to inform parents of their right to opt out,” he said. “I don’t think the [Department of Education] made that as well known to parents as they should have.”

The ELA test will start Tuesday and run through Thursday. The math test will take place the following week.

The test, which students in grades three through eight take, is used to evaluate students’ skills and mastery of content, as well as to help shape future instruction, according to the DOE.

The test is also used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

For Dromm, this use of the test is problematic.

“The tests used to be used to determine where a child was academically and what they need more help in,” Dromm, a former teacher, said. “The reformers came up with the idea to use the grades to evaluate schools and teachers.”

“The tests were never intended for these purposes,” he said.

While parents have been able to remove their children from these tests for years, opting out has only picked up momentum recently due to the pressures now placed on children, Dromm said.

Dromm said in recent years parents have caught on and now the movement to opt out is gaining traction. Last year more than 240,000 students chose to opt out, according to his office.

“Parents realize that the tests are not being used properly,” he said. “That’s when they revolted and said no more to these tests.”

Parents who are interested in opting out of the test should speak to their child’s principal, according to the DOE.

If a student does opt out of the test, the school will work to the best of its ability to provide the child with an alternate education activity, such as reading, during test times, the DOE said.

Read more here.

At Site of Gay Man’s Murder, a Street Corner Acknowledges Its Past

By David Gonzalez

Originally published by the NY Times on March 20, 2016

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A street sign in Jackson Heights, Queens, that commemorates Julio Rivera, who was killed in an attack in July 1990 that authorities later called a hate crime. Credit David Gonzalez/The New York Times

There is little about the intersection of 78th Street and 37th Avenue to distinguish it from any other corner in Jackson Heights. Every day, dozens of parents — from dozens of countries — waiting for their children to be dismissed from school stand beneath a sign declaring the intersection “Julio Rivera Corner.” Many of them likely do not even notice it, yet with those three words, the sign acknowledges a tragic — and ultimately transforming — moment in Queens.

Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who worked as a bartender, was lured to the schoolyard, steps away from that corner, on July 2, 1990. Three white skinheads who wanted to “reclaim” their neighborhood from gays and homeless people set upon him, bashing his skull with a hammer and finishing him off with a knife. His death might have gone unnoticed if not for a few relatives and gay friends who began to mobilize New York City’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and put pressure on the Police Department, which had assigned the case to a detective who was on vacation.

Mr. Rivera’s killing, which the authorities deemed a hate crime, resulted in a manslaughter conviction against the trio’s ringleader, Daniel Doyle. He testified against his two accomplices, who were convicted of murder. The charges against them were overturned and one of the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter before a retrial; the other, who had jumped bail before the retrial, was killed in Mexico in 2002. Both surviving men have since served their sentences.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was a public-school teacher in the neighborhood at the time of the murder, said it spurred him to become more active in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and take the fight for gay rights out of Manhattan and into immigrant and working-class communities. Two years after the attack, Mr. Dromm, a Democrat, came out publicly when he defended Children of the Rainbow, a citywide curriculum that had been introduced to teach tolerance to youngsters but met with great resistance from the local school district.

“The controversy over Children of the Rainbow, along with the murder of Julio Rivera, was Queens’s Stonewall,” Mr. Dromm said, referring to the 1969 uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that is widely seen as a turning point in the fight for gay rights. “It was a call to action. In many ways, it led to numerous other victories.”

That includes the establishment of the neighborhood gay pride parade and a political club that helped push for same-sex marriage in recent years, all of which are featured in “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a documentary by Richard Shpuntoff that had its premiere last week at the Queens World Film Festival.

Mr. Shpuntoff grew up in the area and volunteered to photograph Jackson Heights’ first pride parade in 1993, something he would continue to do for 20 years. He decided to make the documentary as a way to highlight the changes that have swept over the neighborhood since Mr. Rivera’s murder. It is a measure of progress that people at the parade almost take its existence for granted.

“It was amazing that this had become part of the community,” Mr. Shpuntoff said. “But people forgot that when it first happened it was a whole different situation than today, when people march casually. Back then, people were really afraid and no one really knew what would happen at the first parade. There was organization, sacrifice and commitment by a range of people who had formed a coalition around Julio’s murder.”

Peg Fiore, who at the time of the killing was married to Julio’s brother Ted, said the local gay community was, at first, among the family’s few allies. Weeks after the murder, she and Ted participated in a vigil by the playground where Mr. Rivera was killed, a bit unnerved and unsure if anyone would attend. She said her fears were dispelled when she saw scores of people getting off the subway on Roosevelt Avenue to attend.

She said Mr. Rivera — who had moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan because he felt it was safer there — was “an unlikely hero,” something that the documentary does not shy away from. In the film, a former lover recounted the time Mr. Rivera used cocaine and then disappeared for a month.

“He was full of imperfections,” Ms. Fiore said. “But that’s what I love. He is us. Everyone could relate to him. He was this unlikely hero who has been immortalized.”

Although the police are more responsive these days, Mr. Dromm remains concerned about attacks on transgender people, of which there have been several in recent years. And lest others take for granted how far they have come, he takes part in an annual moment of silence held on the corner that was named for Mr. Rivera.

Events like that remind Ms. Fiore that her brother-in-law’s death was not in vain. She said she has not forgotten the support her family received from the gay community. It is a lesson she hopes others can learn from, especially during a political season in which Donald J. Trump has based his Republican candidacy for president on what she sees as intolerance.

“There are people who don’t understand the danger of hating another group simply because they are different from you,” she said. “There are people out there feeling this, and that’s frightening. We can’t get comfortable.”

Read more here.

NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade Steps Into New Era

Gay-Irish group Lavender and Green Alliance joins New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for first time

 

By Mara Gay and Zolan Kanno-Young

Brendan Fay, Edith Windsor, Daniel Dromm and Malachy McCourt broke out in song before heading off on Fifth Avenue with the Lavender and Green Alliance in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

They were among the last groups to march in the parade Thursday, and faced a burst of chilly rain as the day began to stretch into evening.

But for members of the gay-Irish group who marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue for the first time, it was a moment to cheer the end of a 25-year fight to be included in one of the world’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage.

“We are feeling the joy of being together, of having overcome,” said Brendan Fay, a founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance, the gay-Irish group that joined the parade this year after organizers lifted a long-standing ban on gay-Irish groups.

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the group, after years of boycotting the parade in solidarity with the alliance. He also marched with the police and fire departments.

As the latest group to join the event, the Lavender and Green Alliance was placed near the end of the hourslong procession, and didn’t enter the parade, which began at 11 a.m., until after 4 p.m. That meant the some 200 members faced mostly empty streets, with most parade-goers having gone home.

Nearly all those who remained along the parade route cheered and applauded as the group walked slowly by with their green and lavender sashes, and rainbow flags.

“Everybody has to live and let live,” said James Stafford, 47 years old. “We’re all God’s children.”

Sonnia Ehlers, 59 years old, who sat in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral when the gay-Irish group marched by, said she wished gay organizations weren’t allowed to march.

“God made you a woman and a man and that’s the way it should be,” she said.

Marie Hilliard, 68, of southern Italy, said she was fine with gay organizations marching, unless they were promoting their sexuality more than Irish heritage.

Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday.
Police officers from Ireland walked on Fifth Avenue on Thursday. PHOTO: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

 

 “It would’ve caused a fuss if they weren’t included,” Ms. Hilliard said in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She added that “if they are taking part because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, then fine.”

Christine Quinn, the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, also joined the Lavender and Green Alliance in the parade, as did council members Corey Johnson, Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer.

Ms. Quinn, who was arrested multiple times protesting the ban over the years, took a moment to reflect on the moment with her 89-year-old father, Lawrence P. Quinn.

“I thought the battle would take longer and I thought he would have gone on to see his maker before this happened,” she said.

The decision to allow the gay-Irish groups wasn’t without controversy.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, called the decision a “disgrace.” His group stopped marching after the parade allowed Out@NBC-Universal, an employee group, to participate last year.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, join the parade. PHOTO: STEVE REMICH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

 

Mr. de Blasio said it would be “a very healing day.”

“For two decades or more we had a blemish on our city,” he said of the ban on gay-Irish groups, which organizers said was based on religious objections to homosexuality.

The mayor marched three times Thursday: first with the New York Police Department, then with the Fire Department of New York, and finally with the Lavender and Green Alliance, donning a lavender and green sash as he walked the route with his wife, Chirlane McCray.

Earlier in the day, at a breakfast at Gracie Mansion where the mayor’s emerald-clad guests mingled amid a breakfast of soda bread and tea, Ms. McCray said it was impossible to talk about the history of New York City without talking about its Irish roots.

Ms. McCray also joked that her husband’s name for the day should be “Bill O’Blasio.”

The mayor also joined hundreds for a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the holiday, where he sat beside New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.

In many ways, the parade went on as always, with tens of thousands of revelers filling the streets around Fifth Avenue and cheering as groups with bagpipes and drums marched through Manhattan.

Martine O’Neill, 49, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, flew into the city on Monday for the parade, which had its start in the year 1762.

“We’re having a ball,” she said, adding, “I can’t wait to go to the bar.”

Read more here.

AP: NY Mayor to March in St. Pat’s Parade After Gay Ban Dropped

Photo by William Alatriste.

 

By JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW YORK — Mar 2, 2016, 6:26 PM ET

Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending a two-year boycott of the nation’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade now that it has fully dropped its longstanding ban on allowing gay and lesbian groups to march under their own banners.

De Blasio, a first-term Democrat, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that for the first time he will take part in the parade along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. He skipped the parade in 2014, when no gay groups were allowed to openly march, and he skipped again last year, when only one small lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group was permitted.

“The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition, but for years Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride,” de Blasio told the AP a day ahead of a planned formal announcement. “Finally, they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.”

This year, more than 300 people will march under the banner of the Lavender and Green Alliance, an Irish LGBT group that had worked for 25 years to reverse the ban and, when those efforts stalled, founded a competing parade, called St. Patrick’s For All, which marches every year in Queens and allows all groups to participate.

“Our hearts will be dancing,” said Brendan Fay, the head of the group.

Fay gave credit to de Blasio, who was the first mayor in more than 20 years to refuse to participate in the Manhattan parade, saying his boycott put pressure on the parade’s organizers to change their policies. A year ago, organizers allowed OUT@NBCUniversal, a gay organization at NBC, which televises the festivities, to participate, but de Blasio and several other elected officials said that wasn’t enough and continued to abstain from participating in the 255-year-old march.

“It wasn’t truly inclusive until it included an Irish gay group,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Democratic member of the City Council’s Irish and LGBT caucuses. “This allows us to express, in full, who we really are. When you’ve been excluded for something for so long, when you finally realize your dream is coming true, it’s very emotional.”

Dromm will be joined by several members of the City Council, including its speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Democrat who also boycotted the last two years. Aides to de Blasio said he would march in the first portion of the parade with police officers, firefighters and other members of the city’s uniformed services and then spend some of the parade under the Lavendar and Green Alliance’s banner.

It’s customary for the groups marching, some of whom have been participating for decades, to proceed in the same order, with new groups relegated to the end. But parade organizers said the new gay group would not be placed at the end of the lineup.

“We want this to be our most inclusive parade ever,” said John Lahey, chairman of the parade. “We hope that it will bring New Yorkers from all backgrounds together in a way that maybe our previous parades didn’t.”

Lahey, who also is the president of Quinnipiac University, said that no groups dropped out this year after the decision to include the gay organizations, though some had complained the previous year when OUT@NBCUniversal was allowed.

But some longtime parade participants condemned the changes.

“The mayor is a disgrace who bullied everyone to having the type of parade that he wanted,” said Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League, who stopped marching a year ago over the decision to allow LGBT banners. “They are making this just an Irish parade, not a Catholic parade. It’s contemptible.”

This year’s parade, which will mark the 100th anniversary of an insurrection that led to Ireland’s independence, will feature former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as grand marshal. Mitchell, a Democrat and a primary architect of 1998’s Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, had told organizers he would not participate if LGBT groups were not permitted.

Contact the author on Twitter @JonLemire

Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference 2016

Originally published by the United Federation of Teachers on February 18, 2016

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Queens City Councilman and Rosa Parks Award honoree Danny Dromm (third from right) with teachers (from left) Patrick Fortunato, Maria Katsanos, Sue Kirlew, Nyddia Lugo and Philomena Ejiogu of IS 238, Queens. (Photo Credit: Miller Photography)

More than 230 teachers participated in the 56th annual Greater Metropolitan New York Social Studies Conference sponsored by the Association of Teachers of Social Studies/UFT at UFT headquarters on Feb. 6. Awards were presented to civil rights leader and union activist Norman Hill and to Queens City Councilman Danny Dromm, a former teacher who now heads the Council’s Education Committee.

Read more here.

Progress for LGBT kids in NYC public schools

By the amNY Editorial Board

Originally published in amNY on February 1, 2016

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This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas.

There’s never been a comprehensive, citywide effort to address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public school students and staff — or those who are unsure of their gender identities or sexuality. It’s been a hodgepodge of uncoordinated efforts, and it’s mostly voluntary.

Enter Jared Fox. He is the Department of Education’s new liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — a position that didn’t exist before this year. His goals are laudable. He hopes to create an inclusive curriculum that spans nearly every subject, rethink gender-based guidelines, establish a more hospitable workplace, and expand professional development for all staff, from secretaries and custodians to parent coordinators and principals.

It’s a shame it took so long for NYC to put these concerns on the front burner. One more for the “better late, than never” file. It’s been six years since 12-year-old Astoria public school student Elijah Mendez hanged himself, a decision his mother blamed on harassment from classmates who thought he was gay. Later that year, 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Indiana committed suicide for similar reasons. Then, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Quickly, Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign — an effort to give gay and lesbian youth hope — spread nationally.

But even as that spotlight grew, in NYC, little changed. The last available school survey, issued in 2013 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that students statewide said they’re still harassed and bullied, and schools still don’t offer the resources they need.

Thanks to a push from people like Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm, who was once a city public school teacher and came out nearly 25 years ago, city officials have taken a first step. Now, we hope Fox gets support from the DOE bureaucracy to make a difference. He must develop a strategic plan, create curricula, clubs and welcoming environments in every school, establish standards across the system, and involve staff and parents. Then, perhaps, he can reach the children, who need education, support and love.

Read more here.

Ed Department’s First LGBTQ Liaison Aims to Make Schools Safe for Everyone

Originally published in DNAinfo on January 26, 2016

Jared Fox is the first to hold the position with the DOE. Photo courtesy of Jared Fox.

NEW YORK CITY — Jared Fox’s first job when he joined the Department of Education was training teachers across the city to use smartboards, iPads and other technology.

But it was his volunteer after-school work as the founder of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network’s New York chapter that led him to his current groundbreaking position with the DOE — as the department’s first liaison for LGBTQ students.

“The thing that kept me awake at night was LGBTQ students, and making sure that they were safe,” said Fox, 28, who said he experienced discrimination while growing up gay in Cleveland and attending Catholic schools, and even as an adult while teaching in Louisiana.

“This position is really important for kids who are out and experiencing things [like] bullying and coming to terms with their identity. Then there’s also this huge population of kids who are still trying to figure out who they are.”

The position was created within the department’s Office of Safety and Youth Development to support LGBTQ students and work with the community.

So far, Fox has settled into the job by listening and meeting with principals, teachers and students. While some schools have established groups and resources for LGBTQ students, others are just starting to pull those things together, he said.

Lois Herrera, CEO of the Office of Safety and Youth Development, said the DOE hopes to “promote a positive school climate and culture” for LGBTQ students.

Fox is “a valuable addition to our team, who will be working with city agencies and community organizations to help schools support, protect and provide resources to LGBTQ students, families and community members,” she added.

Funding for the role was made possible by the City Council, which voted to set aside money in the budget for the position. Spearheading the charge was Councilman Danny Dromm, a former public school teacher who came out in 1992 and has been at the forefront of pushing for LGBTQ issues.

Dromm said when he worked in the classroom, gay teachers and students had to stay mostly closeted. He was even disciplined by his Sunnyside school administration after telling his students he was gay.

“The department has taken a bold step forward to assure students and teachers alike that anti-gay discrimination will not be tolerated and that, in fact, the department will look for ways to be more inclusive of the LGBT communities,” Dromm said.

For Fox, the journey to his new job has been a very personal one.

As a student in Cleveland, his mom had to pull him out of his local Catholic high school because of bullying. He transferred to his local public school, which he said was the “best thing that happened to me.”

While there, he started the city’s first gay-straight alliance, pushing for same-sex couples to be allowed at proms.

Fox later taught English through the Teach for America program in a New Orleans-area school, finding more students who needed his guidance.

The city is “a blue dot in a red state, but it’s still Louisiana,” he said, and many kids struggled with their identities.

He eventually launched another gay-straight alliance, this time as a teacher, helping students come to terms with their sexuality and offering a place for them to discuss it.

Fox’s three years as a teacher in Louisiana “helped me to build a lot of empathy with what teachers go through and having to make schools safer,” he said.

He joined the DOE three years ago in their technology department, and he’s excited to now be able to make his part-time passion his focus.

“As we go forward it’s first about listening and then about building a community-driven strategy,” he said.

Fox has taken an interest in the school curriculum, which he said currently only includes the history of the Stonewall Riots and the AIDS epidemic in its LGBTQ-related curriculum.

“That’s the only two things that’s state-mandated that kids need to learn — you have to fight, and you’re going to die,” he said.

He hopes to expand that curriculum by bringing LGBTQ authors into schools and adding their books to the curriculum so students have a more balanced portrayal.

Ultimately, Fox’s job is to make a more welcoming environment for everyone, including teachers, faculty and families.

“I want them to feel safe,” he said.

Read more here.