It’s not everyday you get an invitation to a storytelling workshop with the cast of the Tony award winning Best Musical, Fun Home. But volunteers in PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools Program were lucky enough to have that chance last week and then stick around to see the show afterwards.
Last week thirty of us, from millennials to baby boomers, crowded into a basement rehearsal room at the Circle Theatre with six brilliant Fun Home cast members: Michael Cerveris, who plays Bruce, the father; Judy Kuhn (Helen, the mother); Beth Malone (Alison, the main character); Emily Skeggs (Medium Alison, the character in college); Roberta Colindrez (Joan, Alison’s college girlfriend); and Kally Duling (the understudy for Medium Alison and Joan).
A reporter and photographer from the New York Times were there too, and a lovely article about the workshop appeared online the following day.
Our PFLAG group of volunteers was eager to hear the actors’ thoughts on how to build our storytelling, performance, and speaking skills so we could make even stronger connections with the middle and high school students we’ll be talking to when the Safe Schools Program starts up again this fall.
We visit New York schools in pairs: one of us is LGBTQ, and the other is a parent or family member of an LGBTQ person who has come out to them.
Last year, our band of storytellers spoke to nearly 6,000 students at more than 37 schools, for a total of 205 school visits, more than double the numbers reached in 2011. According to Drew Tagliabue, executive director of PFLAG NYC, requests are coming in this year for us to speak to kids in elementary schools. “Five years ago, we barely talked about people coming out as transgender, but now schools are clamoring for that help,” Mr Tagliabue said.
“The dynamics of what kids are asking is changing, too,” he continued. “They now understand LGBTQ and are often thrust into trying to change the minds of older family members. Schools see us as the conversation starter, so we can normalize talking about it.”
We volunteers share our personal stories in classrooms for the purpose of…wait, I’ll let a sampling of students and teachers explain our “why” through some of the feedback surveys they sent in.
“I liked the fact that these were real people telling their real, personal stories, and I could connect better with their struggles and was really compelled to listen.” – Student
“I learned that you can’t always know things or assume things about people. You can’t judge people without knowing them specifically. Everybody has their own life story. I learned to treat other people more respectfully because you never know when someone is trying to deal with more than you can see.” – Student
“What I liked best about the PFLAG presentations was that I got to hear life stories from other people. What I didn’t like was that it took so long for David to come out. There should’ve been people around him who supported him. Maybe I could do that for someone.” – Student
“I LOVED the program. It was effective because many of our students don’t know that they’ve met someone who is LGBTQ and therefore cannot connect the idea to a real person. That can help keep homophobia alive and well. The biggest influence of this program was that they got to talk to an LGBT person or parent of an LGBT person face-to-face and connect with his or her story. The people who were chosen were so very professional in the work that they did with our students.” – Teacher
“My students have such deeply rooted ideas about the LGBTQ community due to their culture and upbringing. Many of their families continue to harbor prejudices. It is so important to have real people stand in front of them and talk about their lives. When they hear the emotion with which the speakers talk about things that they have gone through, it really gets them to pay attention and question their own thinking and actions.” – Teacher
Everyone in the basement at the Circle Theatre that late afternoon was touched by how much good the Safe Schools Program is doing to make schools safer and welcoming for all. Standing at the front of a classroom of young students to share my story about being Harry’s mom is one of the most rewarding things I do.
It’s so important for children to be their authentic selves at school and for the next generation of allies to step up.
If you’re in the New York City area and are part of the LGBTQ community or a family member who’s had a loved one come out to them, I hope you’ll consider volunteering some time to the PFLAG NYC Safe Schools Program. A beginner’s training session is in the works, and we’d love to have you help put an end to homophobia and transphobia in schools. Those kids really need to hear from more “real people.”
To get started, just shoot an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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