As volunteer for the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee (QLGPC), I spoke to the Board of Directors about bringing a program in to the New York City public High Schools that addressed sexuality: HIV, homophobia and STDs. There was excessive city funding sponsored by Speaker Christine Quinn. My idea was accepted, but most believed that I would never get into the schools.
On October 31st, 2007, I connected with the Chris Groll empowerment network (Children First) and Ms. Heather LaValle, the Special Services Manager there. She got us schools.
At this point the idea was just forming. I decided to write a play and I focused on peer pressure and parental homophobia as examples how students become infected with HIV. The three part format then evolved.
We had funding for seven presentations beginning January 14th. In December, from an open call six actors joined a newly formed company. Two females and two males play the parts of eight high schoolers. I play five adult parts. Currently the troupe has increased to 18.
Our first school was Foundations Academy in Brooklyn. The principal, Gary Biederman, sat through the entire 90 minutes and was clearly captured. His first comment was: “I want you back!” The next day we went to the Bronx to Explorations Academy. Again, the students were touched, and the principal, Susan Hernandez, made the same comment. That week we presented four more times at: Brooklyn Theatre Arts, Williamsburg Prep, Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep and the Harvey Milk School. All the schools wanted us back and to most we returned.
Because of HIV and Pride, NY1, a time Warner Cable news station in New York City, awarded me New Yorker of the Week the week of February 8th. The clip is here. We returned to Cypress Hills Collegiate Prep on Wednesday February 6th to be filmed, after our seventh presentation on the 5th at “47” the American school of Sign language.
The empowerment networks and the Department of Education have been extremely supportive. QLGPC has been set up as a vendor of the Department of Education. In March and April we returned to Foundations six times. From May to July we presented five more times to EBC/ENY High School for Public Safety and Law, Queens Prep Academy, Queens High School of Teaching and the Heritage School in Harlem.
On December 8th, a new play: An Ordinary Kid opened in Staten Island. It focused on drugs and alcohol as a causal factor of HIV.
Thanks to funding from the AIDS Institute, DYCD and the Department of Education, we presented 93 times from September 2008 through May 6th 2009 reaching 11,300 students. We have included large assemblies, but in most cases we adhered to the original format of 40-60 students.
The 2009/10 school year was a major success – we presented over 100 more times, bringing our total to over two hundred schools. Our new shows Addiction and Pride and Acceptance and Pride were major successes. We also began presenting for younger audiences. Quite by chance we learned that with some tweaking and by using no inappropriate language, students as young as sixth graders can benefit from our topics.
Our new season will see our first tour and our first interactive program Journey to Pride!