Letters to the Editor

Education bridges gaps between gay and straight

El Nuevo Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth was absolutely correct stating that education is the key -- both to parents' understanding of their gay son and to educators' abilities to create safer and more supportive schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, real or perceived (Education key to reuniting gay son, parents, June 1 column).

Creating safer schools for all students, no matter their orientation or gender identity, has been the mission of Safe Schools South Florida for the past 19 years -- with training for teachers, counselors, administrators and staff to help them understand the issues that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) youth face at school and home. Each training includes a panel of GLBTQ youth who powerfully tell their stories about their home and school experiences. Representatives from Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays tell about their journey to understanding their child.

Over the years Safe Schools South Florida has trained more than 6,000 educators who have directly influenced the lives of more than 750,000 students.

We have witnessed the dynamic positive difference that supportive parents make in the lives of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning children, and conversely, how devastating the lack of their support can be.

We have seen the vast differences between schools with trained and supportive administrators, faculty, staff who provide resources to students through support groups, Gay/Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs), positive role models and healthy social activities -- and schools where educators live in denial about the punishing reality of their GLBTQ students' lives -- including the daily fear of bullying, harassment and/or attack.

Research bears out these differences, showing that GLBTQ students at schools with GSAs feel significantly safer about their sexual orientation and gender expression, are less likely to be threatened or harassed, and are less likely to skip school because of fear from physical or emotional harm.

It is interesting to note that, apparently, Broward's Flannigan High, the high school of the student, Omar Bonilla, who wanted to wear a dress to prom, does not have a GSA. Maybe a GSA could have made a real difference for Omar, and others as well -- and maybe next year his high school will have one. Education is the key.

ROBERT LOUPO, co-founder and executive director, Safe Schools South Florida, Miami

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