Monday, May 3, 2010


I feel like every time I leave a school I say, THAT was the coolest experience I’ve had at a school. How can that be? You have to remember that although you are telling the same story over and over, or a variation of it, it is still someone’s first time hearing your story. That influence and fresh response is what motivates me to keep speaking and sharing my story.

Friday at Accion Academy in the Bronx, I spoke to a group of 80 6th-8th-grade girls in the Women’s Leadership Club. It’s a large group to keep quiet, attentive and engaged, but they were amazing. When we walked in and introduced ourselves, they clapped. When Raymund stood up and said, I’m a gay man, they clapped. I think they may have clapped as much as the audience did during Obama’s inaugural speech. I told my story a little differently to relate more directly to their ages and at the end set out a challenge on the table. This is a class of leaders, right? So use your voice to stand up for something. [I talked about using my voice in the Miss America Organization to stand for something unexpected.] Whether it’s about being gay or supportive of gay rights, being a woman, African American or Latina, be PROUD of who you are and what you believe, and use your platform of leadership to speak clearly about those issues.

We always open up for questions, stories and sharing at the end of a presentation – sometimes it’s a flop, other times we get incredible stories. Ummm, B. The first young woman to stand up, state her name and speak, came out of the closet for the first time. In tears, she said I think I may be gay, but at home all I hear is my mom talking about how disgusting and wrong it is for other people, so I could never talk to her about it. I don’t have anyone to turn to or talk to about that, especially not even my own mother. Again, the audience erupted clapping. What confidence!? In response, I thanked her for the confidence and self-love and respect it took to stand up and say that, and I said Look around? THESE are the people who you have. Your friend from the row in front of you reached back and held your hand the minute you started speaking. The Vice Principal and Guidance Counselor raised their hands and said, Here we are! I’m a mother; I’m a mother day in and day out, to my own kids and to every one of these kids at this school! She can talk to me! Incredible. Similar stories continued, girls speaking about themselves, their friends, and even the guidance counselor sharing her story about her lesbian mother.

Schools provide a much needed safe-haven that too many of today’s youth lack. These are the teachers and counselors who are raising our children. And these 80 girls are the current leaders of their school, and thankfully the future leaders of our communities.

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