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September 3, 2013

 

A lesson in tolerance

Center educates Marathon district on LGBT students

ToleranceBob Ellis/staff photographer
Leah Calzolaio of the Cortland LGBT Center speaks to Marathon teachers this morning.

By TYRONE L. HEPPARD
Staff Reporter
theppard@cortlandstandardnews.net

The LGBT Resource Center is educating Marathon School District personnel about creating a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, students before the start of the new school year.
The Resource Center at 73 Main St. in downtown Cortland serves as an educator and a source of information for and about the LGBT community, while promoting advocacy and collaboration through community outreach efforts.
Project Coordinator Leah Calzolaio and Ethan Lewis, a member of the Cortland-based Family Counseling Services, are putting together the presentation titled “LGBT 101.”
The Marathon School District holds mandated training before the start of the school year to educate all faculty and staff in district goals and polices.
This year Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Stone asked Calzolaio and Lewis to speak at these events – one taking place Tuesday – and to present to the Board of Education at its meeting last Wednesday.
Calzolaio said although the Resource Center has done some work with the Homer Central High School’s student-run LGBT club, this is the first time a school district has asked it to come speak.
“It’s exciting to see a rural school reach out and want the education,” Calzolaio said. “I would hope to gain a safer environment for any students who identify within the LGBT community. All students deserve to have that.”
Stone said the reason she initially asked Calzolaio and Lewis to speak is because she was aware there were past and present students in the district who identified as LGBT.
“We realized we needed to do some education,” Stone said. “I’m asking them (faculty and board members) to know there are students with differences and to respect each other.”
During the presentation, Calzolaio and Lewis talked about the differences between gender, sex, and sexual orientation, forms of oppression commonly directed at LGBT people, and how to create an inclusive environment for students, staff and faculty who identify as LGBT.
Stone said after seeing the presentation for herself at the board meeting Wednesday night, Calzolaio and Lewis cleared up a lot of misconceptions and generalizations she previously had about the LGBT community.
“There are tons of things I’ve learned,” Stone said. “Now I’m able to support our students.”
In July 2012, the Dignity Act went into in New York after being signed into state law in 2010. It is an anti-bullying measure aimed at providing students with an environment free from discrimination and harassment on school property.
Calzolaio said the Dignity Act has provided schools with the chance to address discrimination against LGBT students and she hopes more districts in the area will reach out to the Resource Center.
“It’s kind of a perfect marriage of the topics,” Calzolaio said. “We’re always open to offer this to schools (and) it would be a good time for other schools if they’re interested.”
Lewis said he hopes the presentations make people more aware of the fact there are students who identify as LGBT in the district and hopes they will be more inclined to make sure they are comfortable while attending school.
“The world is changing,” Lewis said. “We’re not asking them (the district) to change their beliefs. We’re asking them to be good educators, to be ethical and supportive.”

 

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