Celebrating Pride Month 2022

Happy Pride Month! The month of June is dedicated to the uplifting of LGBTQ+ voices, a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture, and the support of LGBTQ+ rights.

Why do we celebrate Pride in June? June 28, 1969, was the catalyst of the Gay Liberation Movement, known as the Stonewall Uprising. In the early morning hours of June 28, police raided a popular gay bar in N.Y.C.’s West Village, The Stonewall Inn. This was commonplace for the time, but on this particular evening, the patrons of the bar fought back, starting the Stonewall Riots, which went on for days.

The Stonewall Inn was declared a historic landmark by the city of New York in 2015 and later named a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2016.

While this is a month of celebration, it is also a month of activism.  While there has been movement in the right direction, there is still a long way to go to make the LGBTQ+ community feel safe and included. One of those areas is in the classroom. 

This month in June, Think Together would like to introduce you to some inspirational LGBTQ+ youth who are using their voices to make a difference. We’d also like to share with you resources and articles so that you can feel equipped to join in the conversation to ensure classrooms are safe spaces that promote diversity and inclusion. 

Dwayne Cole Jr. (he/him) 

Growing up, Dwayne Cole Jr. watched his family face financial instability, eviction, and mental illness. At 16, he started openly identifying as gay, and this led him to seek a safe residential space through Detroit’s Ruth Ellis Center (REC). Dwayne eventually transitioned from being a member of their “Out in the System” program to a full-time staffer. He has since dedicated himself to fundraising for REC, reforming policies in the child welfare system, and mentoring LGBTQ+ youth. 

“Because of my experience, I’m an advocate for individuality and I encourage my community to trust in themselves and truly be themselves. Being comfortable with yourself and proud of your experiences, both good and bad, is one of the best ways to become mentally and emotionally healthy. I don’t believe in taking losses, I believe in learning lessons. But what you choose to do with the lessons is the real testament of your character.”

Ella Briggs, (she/her)

Connecticut fifth-graders elected Ella Briggs as their 2019 Kid Governor following her campaign to promote LGBTQ+ youth safety. She’s been working with her Cabinet on a guide for students starting gay-straight alliances (GSAs) at their schools, a poster contest to bring awareness to homeless LGBTQ+ youth, and a teacher webinar to train educators on LGBTQ+ issues. Her next goal? Becoming the country’s first lesbian president. 

“A lot of kids don’t feel comfortable with who they are and that makes me really sad because I just want everyone to be happy and be themselves. I like being myself…I wouldn’t change one thing about me and I wouldn’t change one thing about anyone else in the whole world.”

Sameer Jha, (they/them)

For Sameer Jha, their experiences with bullying underscored a need to challenge the status quo within schools. At age 14, Sameer founded The Empathy Alliance, which seeks to transform schools by “educating the educators” on LGBTQ+ topics to help them create more inclusive classrooms. They’ve earned a Silver Congressional Award Medal, were honored as the 2017 Youth Grand Marshal for Oakland Pride, and published a teacher’s guide for creating safer classrooms.

“You don’t start out changing the world. You start out making small changes. Even within yourself. Educating yourself is already helping people around you. Small changes are important. Starting a gender-sexuality alliance, helping a friend come out. These small differences can be world-changing for the people that you help. So, it doesn’t need to be this incredible, high-profile thing. It can be the small differences you make in the lives of people around you. That’s amazing too.” 

Ose Arheghan, (they/them) 

When Ose Arheghan started openly identifying as queer in the eighth grade, the microaggressions they faced motivated them to make their school safer for LGBTQ+ students. They volunteered on their high school’s cultural proficiency subcommittee, and they wrote a series about sexual and racial diversity for their school newspaper. This earned them the Student Advocate of the Year Award at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards. Now, as a student at Ohio State University, Ose works with Advocates for Youth to champion sexual health education and reproductive justice for young people.

“Your voice is power.”

“If you see a problem, you’re never too small of a person to make a change and to speak out about that problem.”

Esmée Silverman (she/her)

Esmée is the west region representative on the GLSEN Freedom Fellowship. She is the co-founder of the nonprofit organization, Queer Youth Assemble, which is dedicated to serving queer youth across the U.S. by providing resources and support for youth. She also created Let Trans Athletes Play, an event that brought together more than 100 queer youth for a day, protesting anti-trans bills while building a queer youth community through sports and games. In addition to her endeavors, Esmée has also worked with various organizations including GLSEN National as a member of the 2020-2021 National Student Council, the Massachusetts GSA State Leadership Council, and GLSEN Massachusetts. 

“To all the trans people who may not have the most welcoming environment out there, you always have a family with us,” Silverman said. “We may not be able to see each other, we may not be able to even talk to each other in person. But regardless of that, you are always going to have a community of people who love and value you for every second of the day.”

If you want to help join these young leaders in creating safe and inclusive classroom environments, check out these links!