BUSHWICK—Markeys Gonzalez may face homophobic jabs in the hallways, but the challenge strengthened his resolve Wednesday to speak out on the steps of his Bushwick school for Pride Week.
"I identify as bisexual but in this school you get bullied," said Gonzalez, 15, a 10th-grader at the Academy for Environmental Leadership on 400 Irving Ave. "As a member of the GSA," he said of his school's gay-straight alliance, "you can converse with members of the group and they help you out a lot."
Gonzalez was joined by a dozen other students with rainbow flags and signs, all members of the alliance at his school and at the three other high schools — Bushwick School for Social Justice, Academy for Urban Planning and the Brooklyn School for Math and Research — that share the building.
Teachers, administration, local officials and members of the advocacy group Make the Road also joined to campaign for LGBTQ acceptance.
"Nine out of 10 LGBT students surveyed experience harassment at their school," noted Make the Road's LGBTQ justice organizer Ivan Luevanos, referring to a survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "Bullying has lead students to miss out on an education since they don't feel safe, and in too many cases has led students to take their own lives."
To spread awareness at their schools, the students and faculty have workshops each year about gender and sexual identities, and this week they held ceremonies to commemorate victims of homophobic acts.
"They made butcher paper outlines of people who've died because of homophobic hate crimes," said Academy for Environmental Leadership's guidance counselor Leia Petty, who works with the GSA. The paper images were posted in the hallways, she said, so that every student would have to contemplate the destructive power of homophobia.
"The most important thing is to start an open conversation," she said.
Some students also participated in a day of silence Tuesday, and wrote about bullying on balloons the teens then released into the air.
"This week is based on people that don't have a voice and that are hiding," said Gonzalez, who came out when he was in seventh grade, and said that his school's LGBTQ events helped support him throughout the year.
And for local community leaders, the schools' gay-straight alliances provide an important service that needs to be implemented citywide.
"These schools are a leader and a beacon," said Antonio Reynoso, Council Member Diana Reyna's Chief of Staff, "for what all schools should be doing."