Using songs, dances and videos, students at William Cullen Bryant High School on 31st Avenue and 48th Street sent a very clear message to all who would listen of tolerance and anti-prejudice today.
Members of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, Meditation Club, Leadership Club and Yearbook group put on the multi-faceted and bilingual event as part of the city's Department of Education "Respect for All" week. The students performed skits and songs, including a rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Respect", complete with feather boa. The performances didn't just support acceptance of people's sexuality; they also preached tolerance for people of different creeds, cultures and physical abilities.
Photo: Rebecca Henely, YourNabe.com
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who are both openly gay, were on hand for the ceremony, which also included a detailed account from one of the young GSA members about how he was once threatened, insulted and spit on one evening while walking down Steinway Street.
"Respect for All" week was created in response to the rise in harassment of and suicides by teens who are gay or are presumed by their peers to be gay. One of the most recent and highly-publicized of these incidents is the harassment and suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who plummeted off the George Washington Bridge last September. The tragedy occurred after Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and hallmate, Molly Wei, secretly filmed him having sex with a male student and streamed it onto the Internet.
The freshmen were charged with Invasion of Privacy and Transmitting a Sexual Encounter on the Internet. In response to Clementi's death, the New Jersey senate passed a bi-partisan "Anti-bullying Bill of Rights" bill in November of last year.
Council Speaker Quinn told the Astoria high school students that, because of incidents like these, spreading the message of tolerance is important now more than ever.