On December 11, public speaker and Director of the Center Lane Program Santo Barbagiovanni came to the school to give a presentation on the behalf of PRIDE Club. His lecture provided concrete definitions about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning community (LBGTQ), as well as illuminating the differences between biological sex, gender and gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
At the beginning of the session, Barbagiovanni asked participants to complete a pre-test that assessed their level of knowledge from poor to excellent on subjects ranging from “Understanding of the stigmas faced by…the LBGTQ Community” to “Your confidence that you can address a person by their right preferred gender pronoun.” The same test was then administered again following the conclusion of the discussion. Answers from these tests will be used to evaluate the efficacy of the session.
Much of Barbagiovanni’s presentation was centered on supplying proper education of the queer community. In a manner that encouraged audience participation, he clarified the spectrums of sexual orientation and gender expression, among others, while also asserting that gender is simply a social construct and nothing more. Listeners were encouraged to contribute personal experiences and opinions throughout.
“I feel like there is no better way to learn than to let people participate,” says freshman Ana Lopes. “It’s such an important subject that has to be talked about it…He lets people give opinions and add to the meaning of words that can change people’s lives.”
Although the session was conducted mainly for the members of PRIDE Club, the club hopes to soon spread Barbagiovanni’s messages throughout the entire school.
“I think that the presentation went really well. But this is the ‘group,’ so we thought it would go over well with them. The overall goal…is that people in the school will actually listen to it and pay attention, and those that do will hopefully benefit from it. [I think that] there’s an underlying homophobia in the school that doesn’t really get paid attention to a lot, so hopefully this will help with that,” says junior Co-President Rebecca Regueira.
“Our main goal is to spread [LGBTQ awareness] throughout the whole school. We want to spread more education about the definition of each term. There are so many that it gets confusing at times. The goal is acceptance,” says senior Co-President Lindsay Marshall.
In February of the coming year, Barbagiovanni will be returning to the high school to present at a faculty meeting. Staff education is critical in high schools, as a lack of knowledge would leave teachers and administration poorly equipped to protect students.
“I think that education is just so important for everyone. It fills in a lot of the gaps where there is uncertainty or misinformation. From [my] perspective, the faculty has always been supportive, from the time I brought this to them last year. But I think that they are looking for more information. How can they better relate to the issues that students are facing, unless they have education about it?” says PRIDE Club Advisor and Guidance Counselor Susan Binney.
According to the United States’ Center for Disease Control (CDC), 61.1% of LGBTQ students were more likely than their non-LGBTQ classmates to feel unsafe or uncomfortable due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A recent study also discovered that schools that promoted gay-straight alliance clubs, along with having policies prohibiting discrimination or bullying based on gender identity and/or expression and sexual identity, helped decrease suicidal thoughts and attempts for LGBTQ students. Encouraging respect for all students, providing access to safe spaces for discussion, and disseminating information regarding LBGTQ health in school is also important.
Center Lane, the organization that Barbagiovanni represents, is the only center in Westchester County that has a primary focus on aiding the LGBTQ community and its allies.
“I’ve been there for a year-and-a-half. We offer individual-level supportive counseling for individuals and their families. We offer group counseling, psychoeducational groups, workshops, community education like this, and we have a group called Transparentcy. It’s for transgender youth and their parents,” says Barbagiovanni.
“Teenagers have the power to change the climate of your school and your community. The only way to change things is to start with the young people, especially in the school,” he continued.