City pushes to make LGBT students comfortable in class

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BROOKLYN -

The city's public schools are working to help LGBT students feel comfortable being themselves in the classroom.

"To be afraid is to behave as if the truth was not true," is the mantra of Devon Shanley, the adviser of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club at Brooklyn Collaborative school. "In GSA there is space where we can hear students more genuinely than we would throughout the regular day."

Last March, students at the school created the club. Its members are both LGBT and straight, and it includes allies, parents and guardians.

"I think it does eliminate the amount of bullying, because it helps kids understand that these topics are very serious," says Xavi Leibling, a sixth-grader at the school.

Studies show that bullying continues to be an issue within school systems, but several new initiatives have helped reduce it, especially the harassment of LGBT students.

"LGBTQ students who experience bullying are more likely to miss school and feel unsafe," says Jared Fox. "If they can identify 11 or more supportive adults in their lives, who are allies to the LGBTQ community, then those statistics even out with their straight peers."

In January 2016, the city Department of Education made Fox its first LGBT liaison. He has pushed for changes like all-gender bathrooms, teacher training and other support for LGBT kids.

"We realize that in many of our teacher and preparation programs at colleges or universities, LGBT support is not taught." he says. "So a lot of teachers who enter come with a lot of questions."

Separately, LGBT history lessons have become part of the state standard for eighth and eleventh grade.

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