The LGBT Network awarded Oceanside Middle School’s Gay-Straight Alliance with a $250 grant for the club’s “No Name Calling Week” in January.
The group was one of 28 middle school and high school GSA clubs in New York City and Long Island to receive a mini grant from the network of non-profit organizations dedicated to serving LGBT populations in the Long Island and Queens area. About 50 GSA clubs applied.
“We wanted to give the grant to everyone, but we couldn’t,” said LGBT Network President David Kilmnick. “Hopefully next year we raise more.”
The LGBT Network gave a total of $7,500 in grants; they secured the funds through their annual gala fundraiser and online donations. It was the organization’s second year of awarding grants to GSA groups for projects they plan to undertake at their schools. Each club submitted an explanation of the program they sought to organize to be considered for the grant.
The Oceanside Middle School GSA asked for a grant to fund its annual celebration of “No Name Calling Week,” a program started by the nationally recognized Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The middle school’s program focused on spreading kindness and respect to students and staff alike.
“Each grant proposal is different and that’s a great thing,” Kilmnick said. “It really demonstrates that the grant is meeting the individual needs of these communities. At Oceanside Middle School, they saw the need for positivity and a program to reward that kindness and positivity. A lot of time we focus on the negative. It was great of them to focus on the positive in their school. I think we need more of that in our world.”
Kathleen Dunne, a counselor at the middle school and GSA advisor, said the grant money paid for stationery materials used to promote positivity. “No Name Calling Week” ran from Jan. 22 to 25, the four days after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Students kicked off the event with the “Pay It Forward” challenge, where they left notes in teachers’ mailboxes thanking them for their hard work. Throughout the week, club members also left inspirational post-it notes on all the students’ lockers and filled out slips that said “Kindness as simple as…” and left the answers on the cafeteria tables. On Friday, the students showed pride and support for the LGBT community by wearing rainbow-colored clothing.
The middle school’s GSA formed about five years ago with the mission of fostering an atmosphere of acceptance at the school. There are now 25 members in the club.
At first, the club was an “anti-bias” group, but after a while, realized that the specific group experiencing bias needed to be identified with pride; hence, GSA was born.
“You can’t ignore the fact that kids in the sexual minority are six times more likely to commit suicide,” Dunne said, noting that the message to anti-bullying also trickles out to benefit students with other differences, as well.
The middle school is a “No Place for Hate” school in accordance with the Anti-Defamation League and will participate in the National Day of Silence on April 12, which, according to a website created for the day, is student-led national event where participants will take a vow of silence to highlight the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people at schools across the country.
Kilmnick noted that it is uncommon for middle schools to have GSA clubs; typically, the club is found in high schools. Out of the 17 Nassau County schools that received a grant, three of them were at middle schools — Oceanside, Commack and Great Neck South. The rest were high school clubs. “Middle schools are the next frontier to do this type of work,” he said.
Many middle school club members go on to join the high school’s GSA, Dunne said. She also noted that although some students still say they receive biased comments, the club members are bolder about their mission of acceptance for all students.
“Since the club started five years ago, what I’m seeing is the kids in the club are more passionate,” she said. “There are more kids who want to speak out and aren’t afraid to get on the morning announcements and say, ‘I’m in GSA.’”