November 17, 2017

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New York City’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools Program a Growing Success

The LGBTQ literary community has joined forces with New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) to raise awareness and availability of LGBTQ books. This is being accomplished through Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program. Lambda Literary is an organization that works to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender literature.

The program is supported through funding made possible by Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “This partnership between the New York City Department of Education and Lambda Literary benefits all New York City public school students by introducing them to new ideas and ways of thinking, the hallmarks of a sound education,” said Dromm, who is chairman of the council’s Committee on Education.

Jared Fox, a longtime volunteer with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network who formerly worked in the technology department at NYCPS, has been appointed the district’s (and, in fact, the nation’s) first LGBTQ community liaison. Fox has recruited educators, many of whom are school librarians, throughout New York City to assign LGBTQ books to their students in preparation for in-person author visits. Classroom sets of books have been donated by publishers such as HarperCollins, Picador, Scholastic, NoBrow Press, and Simon & Schuster.

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From left: Peter Cameron, Naomi Jackson, Laurent Linn, and Jeremy Sorese are among the authors who will be visiting schools in 2017.

Since last spring, the program has brought 20 authors, including Adam Silvera, Bil Wright, Naomi Jackson, Alex Gino, Peter Cameron, Cris Beam, Kate Scelsa, and Ariel Schrag to schools across the city to discuss their work openly with students and to encourage appreciation of diversity.

Kate Scelsa, author of Fans of the Impossible Life, visit Rebecca Eisenberg's class at the High School of Fashion Industries.

Kate Scelsa, author of Fans of the Impossible Life, visits Rebecca Eisenberg’s class at the High School of Fashion Industries.

Scelsa has found the program “pretty revolutionary.” The author of Fans of the Impossible Life (HarperCollins, 2015) recently visited New York City’s High School of Fashion Industries. “It means that queerness is not going to be taboo in this conversation,” Scelsa tells SLJ. “Queerness is something that is going to be talked about with thoughtfulness and through the lens of literature.”

Laurent Linn, whose debut Draw the Line (S. & S., 2016) received four star reviews, will be participating in the program for the first time in 2017. “Having a direct connection to teen readers and hearing their own stories is powerful,” Linn tells SLJ. His novel tackles bullying and prejudice head-on. “LGBTQ kids are still verbally and physically attacked, which may get worse before it gets better, and I want to show how what some see as a ‘weakness’ could actually be one’s greatest strength.”

“We’re thrilled to be working with the New York City Department of Education to introduce great LGBTQ books to their students to enrich their reading lives and further their understanding of the LGBTQ experience,” said Tony Valenzuela, Lambda Literary’s executive director. “This is a historic partnership advancing Lambda Literary’s work with young people that we hope will be a model for school districts across the country.”

Those interested in bringing a writer into their school through the LGBTQ Writers in Schools program can contact project coordinator Monica Carter.

 

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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