Pledging "to make every child's potential a reality," the Long Island Gay Parent Teacher Student Association Thursday officially became the nation's only gay PTA.
Before a standing-room-only crowd in Garden City South, the new group established a groundbreaking charter to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
The group voted unanimously to create the charter, accept its bylaws and elect officers. More than 80 people signed up as the organization's first members.
Many of those who served as witnesses Thursday night were some of the very students it will seek to represent by fighting bullying and promoting equality in schools.
"I'm really excited," said Cat Kryjak, 17, a student at West Babylon High School whose mother is the group's new co-chairwoman.
"This is one of those things that is going to burst down so many doors," she said. "This is the first gay PTA and to be part of that, there aren't words to describe it. We're making history right now. We're making progress."
Long Island Gay PTSA becomes the first unit in the state and the only PTA-sanctioned group in the nation to focus on the needs of students and families advocating for equality of LGBT students and those raised by same-sex parents.
"I know that you will adhere to our purposes . . . of speaking not only for children who are gay and for parents of children who are gay, but for all the children," New York State PTA president Maria Fletcher told members of the new group. "Tonight is a night of new beginnings."
Group organizers had been working on the idea of a school-focused advocacy effort since the Long Island GLBT Center, which had been based only in Bay Shore, opened a Garden City South location last October to reach out to more Long Islanders.
Plans hit a snag late last year when the state and national PTA organizations objected to advocates using the parent-teacher name without their authorization, but advocates and PTA officials started discussions to incorporate a chapter that culminated in Thursday's vote.
"It's like, 'Wow, we are the first and this is really happening,' " said David Kilmnick, chief executive of the Long Island GLBT Services Network. "And it's happening in suburbia, which has to give hope to other people around the state and the nation."
PTA officials said they found the new group's purpose consistent with the parent-teacher groups' mission of increased parent involvement and child advocacy as expressed in the group's motto: "Every child. One voice."Giving students a voice was the reason Lori Lieberman, 50, of East Meadow, was there with her daughter, who goes by the name S.D. Liebs.
"Kids shouldn't be afraid to be who they are," Lieberman said, "and the parents shouldn't be ashamed."
Her daughter agreed. "We need to know that our parents are there for us," she said.