Teachers coordinated the event after students identifying as LGBTQ+ were bullied and shamed by fellow students.
It’s not easy to identify as LGBTQ+ even as an adult, let alone in high school. Identifying it as a pressing issue, a couple of teachers at Central Park School for Children in Durham, North Carolina, enlisted the help of local drag queens to celebrate the difference between school students this week, CNN reported.
The two teachers who took the decision, Taylor Schmidt, an eighth-grade teacher, and his colleague, Schara Brooks said they had noticed students who identified as LGBTQ+ were being bullied by their fellow students and were being derided by their friends for being 'different'. Some students had even left the North Carolina school following bad experiences of bullying and shaming.
Last December, the teachers decided to pitch a schoolwide event to show students it was okay to be different. "Our drive was to remove barriers to success, belonging and the ability to thrive for all students. It called for a hard look at the roots of these behaviors and intentional actions to liberate not just the bullied from oppressive acts, but the bully from the oppressive root causes of their actions," said Schmidt.
Named the Pride and Liberation Event, Taylor Schmidt says more than a collaboration, the teachers were just following the lead of social activists and drag queen of color Vivica C. Coxx and Stormie Daie of the House of Coxx for the event. "They have been the ones sticking their neck out for years to do this kind of work on behalf of the community. They create spaces that are free for everyone ... by fully recognizing every aspect of identity."
The House of Coxx drag house based in Durham has been an advocate of social and racial issues and have been doing events and raising awareness in the community for many years, but it for the first time that Vivica and Stormie have been asked to visit a school and perform. Both reflected on their personal experiences as high schoolers in a panel discussion held at the school.
They stressed that it was important for children and high schoolers to celebrate their differences from a very early age. "I thought they must be feeling so empowered to see someone being themselves on stage. Visibility matters, and seeing a queer person of color on stage saying 'this is me' has an impact that no one can really measure," said Vivica.
Stormie said she hoped the event would have an impact on the kids watching on and accept those who were different from what they were. "You hope that the children listen to this. So that they know we didn't have this when we were growing up. We weren't seeing people like us being celebrated," said Stormie.
The school said it gave students the option to decide if they wanted to attend the event but confirmed that most decide to attend. The event that was two hours long featured a panel with a city council member, a performance by the school step team, and the drag show.
Stormie, a former teacher herself, said it was a step in the right direction for the schools. Students interacted with Stormie and Vivica after the performance and hugged them with gratitude, "It was so beautiful and so well received. I am still overwhelmed. It was ridiculously good," said Stormie.
Vivica said the school made no efforts to censor or tone down their performances, “Central Park didn't water it down, but they made it age-appropriate to give a depth to social justice and activism, which is the core of the queer experience."
School authorities said that there was a noticeable difference in the school atmosphere after the event. An eighth-grader Katya opened up about the event to CNN, "This event felt extremely important to me as a student and as a member of the LGBT community. I am so proud of my school for making such huge steps to make Central Park a safe, intersectional space. There have been many places I feel that I don't belong and this celebration has helped to make Central Park not one of them."
Having successfully pulled off the event, Taylor Schmidt is now encouraging others to follow suit, "If schools are nervous about doing the work of Pride and Liberation, we get it ... but what to us seems daring, to our LGBTQ+ students could be lifesaving. Public school educators ultimately teach for liberation - that's the job."
In an interview with IndyWeek, Vivica C. Coxx explained what she expects kids to take away from the show, "That they are loved. I want the children to see that community exists. That art is theirs, too. That entertainment can be entertaining and that there are real people behind it."