By Vanessa Langdon
Members of the Niskayuna High School Visibility club are bringing their message outside of the school walls and inviting community members to learn about the LGBTQA community. The club will host a community forum on March 15 at Van Antwerp Middle School. The conversation begins at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium.
The club has worked to spread a message of acceptance in the school district and visits all the health classes at the middle schools each school year to give a presentation about the LGBTQA community. It was during this years presentation that co-club advisor Mary-Jo Pierpont got the idea to step the presentations up a notch.
“This year the students put together an impressive PowerPoint that they presented,” said Pierpont. “All of the sudden when I saw the students doing the presentation I thought, this is such a great and important presentation that we do for the eighth graders why don’t we bring this to the adult community?”
After having a eureka moment she brought her idea to the club for their opinion before taking it any further – they run the show according to Pierpont.
“I thought it was a really good idea for some of the parents to have some more awareness of the LGBTQ people in high school,” said Emma Mahony, visibility club co-president.
Pierpont then brought the idea to the Niskayuna Community Action Program who was very supportive and helped them bring it to fruition.
Mahony, her copresident Elizabeth Whelan and three other students will be on a panel at the event to answer any questions attendees may have. They will not be doing their specific presentation from the health classes at the event but the group has an ace up their sleeve – James Shultis from the Pride Center in Albany.
Shultis’ position at the Pride Center as the youth program manager allows him to go into schools and give presentations to students, faculty and administration about what the LGBTQA community needs in terms of support. The visibility club at Niskayuna high school has had Shultis come speak with the club twice each year and this is just their most recent collaboration.
“We’re going to do a one on one about what LGBTQ means in terms of identity and definition and what might it be like if you identify as someone who is LGBTQA and then have some discussion about what it looks like in Niskayuna in the K through 12 schools,” said Shultis. “And talk about how the school district and the community can be a tool and a resource and what the center that I work for can offer to those in Schenectady.”
The conversation is open to everyone and all those involved hope they will draw a large crowd.
“As long as folks have a willingness to engage in a respectful dialogue and learn a little bit more,” said Shultis when speaking about those that are invited.
Pierpont discovered that assistant superintendent of instruction for the Niskayuna school district put the event on the learning plan for the faculty so they hope to have many faculty and staff members from the district in attendance.
“Since this is the first time we’ve offered this we would be thrilled to see 40 or 50 people,” said Pierpont. “We never had a community wide presentation before.”
The group has advertised with posters and flyers around the community and Pierpont would not be surprised if they draw people from outside the Niskayuna community.
“I think it’s a great way for the larger community to be able to be in dialogue with students to hear what their perspective is within the school and then also to learn and get more information about the LGBTQA community,” Shultis said. “Often times having more knowledge and education about a certain topic allows people to have a better understanding about that community and see why there should be more support.”
Those looking for more information about the event should contact the Niskayuna Community Action Program at 374-0744.
Whelan wants to work to improve the areas response to those of the LGBTQ community.
“We live a pretty accepting community for the most part compared to other places and in my personal experience I’ve never had anyone bully me for being gay or anything like that,” Whelan said. “It’s definitely better and we’re working on it too.”
Mahony looks forward to bringing what they’re all taught at school to those that may not have learned the same things during their own years of schooling.
“In school students are generally told not to bully people,” she said. “But I don’t think parents are especially aware of the bullying but giving this forum will give them ways to teach their children to support people in the LGBT community.”