More than 450 middle and high school students from 30 Long Island school districts showed up for the LGBT Network’s annual conference Tuesday at Stony Brook University.
David Kilmnick, LGBT Network CEO and founder, said the turnout, a 38 percent increase from last year, is part of a “sea change,” with youth becoming more involved and taking direct action. He attributes the change to the advocacy shown by students in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, shooting and to reaction to President Donald Trump.
“Some say sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you,” he said. “But words do hurt, in a big way.”
During the day-long conference, students attended panel discussions ranging from how media perception of the LGBT community is changing to creating gay-straight alliance clubs in schools. A total of $5,500 in grants was awarded to help 17 districts cope with issues such as bullying and cyber taunting.
Kilmnick cited national statistics showing that 85 percent of LGBT students face harassment in school, one in three LGBT students have skipped school out of fear of bullying and 43 percent of those youth have reported they might not finish high school because of the problems they face.
“No Long Island parent should have to worry about their child going to school, being bullied or afraid they might drop out,” he said.
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) of the county legislature, who has a gay son, said the conference is important as a way to help students find their way to their “true selves.” “If our children can be their true selves it’s all we as parents really want,” he said.
Joe Laricchiuta, a teacher at Sachem East High School, said that in his day “As a student, there weren’t the resources for conferences like these to help the kids who needed it most. Now that I’m on the other side of the desk, I can help my students get where they need to be.”