A flag made the Gay-Straight Alliance at Islip High School...

A flag made the Gay-Straight Alliance at Islip High School hangs in the hallways of the school. Credit: Blaine Wesiman

"Everyone is welcome here."

Those words hang in the halls of Islip High School, visible to every student who walks through the school each day. Painted by members of the Gay-Straight Alliance in rainbow letters across a large Progress Pride Flag mural, the words serve as a reminder to all children in Islip that they are accepted as who they are.

The sign was created last year by the members of Islip's Gay-Straight Alliance. The design was approved by the principal, and we were allowed to hang the mural in the high school hallway after consultation with the building administration, superintendent, and the board of education.

We were grateful for this support because, even though the Progress Pride Flag flies over the New York State Capitol building in Albany every year during the month of June, not every school in the state provides the same opportunities to their students.

"Pride" is not political; pride is an expression of who a person is. Pride is not a sign telling you who to vote for, nor does it express a position of one side of a culture war. Pride is the act of being who you are without shame.

Most LGBT children grow up being told to hide who they are. Their identities are invalidated when they are told that they are confused or that they are just going through a phase. They are told that who they are is a sin, that it is unnatural, that they are an embarrassment. They are taught to be ashamed of themselves and to live in fear and hatred of their true selves.

It is essential that all children are protected and welcomed. Statistics show that transgender and nonbinary youth whose identities are respected and LGBT youth with access to identity-affirming spaces have a healthier mental outlook and are much less likely to attempt suicide.

Gay-Straight Alliances are spaces for LGBT children to be who they are without fear of judgment, harassment, or violence against them. They provide students with the resources and support they need when they are not given it at home. Some students may not be able to be part of the GSA for several reasons, such as fear of coming out or being outed, other commitments, or not knowing it exists — some GSAs are not allowed to advertise their presence. A pride flag in a school sends the message to LGBT students that they are safe here, that they will not be judged or harassed, and that if an incident does occur, the teachers and administration will do what they are supposed to do to protect and take care of them.

Pride is a way that you can express yourself to show you are not afraid to be who you are. Pride is the ability for all people to be treated equally. When a gay student can walk through the halls holding hands with someone of the same gender without feeling embarrassed, that is pride. When a transgender student can dress the way that makes them feel comfortable and use their own name and pronouns without fear of disrespect, that is pride.

The message that everyone is accepted as who they are is essential to ensuring that children feel safe, loved, supported, and comfortable in their own skin, not as if they must hide themselves or take their own lives. That is why Islip High School is proud to declare that everyone is welcome here.

This guest essay reflects the views of the members of Islip High School's Gay-Straight Alliance.

DON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access