Phoebe George honored for LGBTQ advocacy efforts


The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, in partnership with the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, celebrated outstanding young advocates in their communities at an event on Monday. Phoebe George, a senior at the Glen Cove High School, was among the eight teens recognized for their advocacy for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer community, with a focus on trans youth.
“Even if things aren’t happening to me specifically, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t fight for it,” George said. “I don’t think it should just sit right with people that injustices are happening to people. Doing nothing — to me — is one of the worst feelings.”
George, a gender-non-conforming student who uses gender-neutral pronouns, took a bold stand as part of their senior capstone project by addressing critical issues the LGBTQ community faces. In a presentation at a Board of Education meeting in January, George highlighted alarming statistics — for instance, the fact that 510 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in Congress in the last two years, with 278 of them specifically targeting trans people, who make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population.
“According to the Trevor Project, allowing trans youth to express themselves as their truest selves drops the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide,” George said during their presentation. “I believe that smaller communities such as ours need to do something. The discussion of gender and sexuality is very taboo. Having that conversation not be considered taboo, not be considered dangerous, is just the first step in creating a more comfortable world for not just people like me, but people everywhere.”
The Holocaust Center and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation have presented the Friedlander Upstander Awards for 12 years. These educational scholarships are given to students from Nassau and Suffolk counties who have demonstrated that they are “upstanders” — people who actively intervene to prevent acts of intolerance, large or small. Claire Friedlander, a Holocaust survivor who was saved by those who stood against prejudice, established the foundation to support young people who embody these values.

Susan Poulos, the Glen Cove school district’s social studies coordinator, wholeheartedly recommended George for an Upstander Award, citing their exceptional commitment to promoting acceptance and equality.
“Phoebe’s bravery in coming out as a trans person underscored her commitment to authenticity and fearlessly advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals,” Poulos said in her referral letter. “Her actions not only inspired those in attendance but also initiated a vital conversation that has the potential to create lasting change in the Glen Cove community.”
The high school Drama Club and members of the genders and sexualities alliance clubs staged “The Laramie Project,” a play focusing on the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, last Dec. 1, on what would have been Shep-ard’s 47th birthday. George, a member of the GSA organized a Talk Back Panel after the show, for a dialogue on LGBTQ rights and the importance of safe environments. George invited a range of speakers, including City Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, teachers and students as well as Shepard’s father, Harry Shepard, who took part on Zoom.
Meris First, who chairs the Holocaust Center’s Education Committee, praised George’s bravery and her impact. “Having someone outwardly discuss these issues and try to make the world a better place was a brave move on her part,” First said. “She is able to speak out and be a voice for young adults.”
First emphasized that the center’s mission is to promote tolerance for all people, regardless of their beliefs or religions. “Because of our mission, (George) really made an impact on our decision,” First said. “She fits into HMTC’s mission of promoting fairness and tolerance.”
In addition to George’s involvement in “The Laramie Project,” their advocacy included a presentation at a Board of Education meeting.
“To us, an upstander is someone who uses their voice and actions to help others, making a difference in promoting positive change,” First said. “Phoebe stood up and represented her particular group, making her an upstander, as opposed to sitting back and doing nothing, which we call bystanders. We believe she is making a positive impact in the community and helping to motivate and inspire others to become lifelong champions of kindness.”