I applaud these LGBTQ teens from Cambria Heights and other parts of SE Queens to speak up. The Cambria Height’s Library is the first branch in Queens to offer a safe space to LGBTQ students and their allies and I also applaud this library branch for having an outlet for these teens. I mean considering that Jamaica and the SE Queens area, which is heavily black, home to many Muslims and with many religious folks (and hypocritical ones at that), is not known for being very gay friendly or tolerant. But ironically, Jamaica and SE Queens does have a sizeable gay population of all the various ethnic groups here (though most keep it quiet or on the DL, which they should not have to). You would be surprise how many gay/bi people are in this community. But in this close minded, religious, god fearing community, many gay or bi people tend to keep things under wrap and that should not be the case. People should be free to be who they are, period. For you religious folks shaking your head, ask “what would Jesus do”.
Again KUDOS to these teens for speaking out at their age and in a not so gay friendly community.
From Queens Press:
Leanne Waldron, Benjamin Hogarth, Isaiah Peters, Alex Hamilton, Jennifer Ulcena, Ashley McBurnie. Leaders from the Teen Advisory Board counsel LGBTQ students who face bullying about their identity. Photo by Tatyana Bellamy-Walker.
BY TATYANA BELLAMY-WALKER
When one Southeast Queens student is asked how LGBTQ stereotypes effect bullying, she doesn’t have to think about it for too long.
Fourteen-year-old Kyanna Ali, an LGBTQ ally and a member of the only LGBTQ teen club in Cambria Heights, says her family accuses her of being gay. Ali, who is most comfortable wearing sweatpants and other articles of clothing typically considered “boyish,” said she had to change her wardrobe to include crop tops and skinny jeans in eighth grade just to avoid the rumors.
“I’m a tomboy. I like to play basketball, but it doesn’t mean I’m gay,” said Ali, who attends John Adams High School in Ozone Park. “I would always think to myself ‘what is my appearance doing wrong? So I decided to change my outfits.”
But the taunting didn’t stop. Ali’s parents and classmates continued to falsely disclose her sexuality to others.
“I felt hurt,” said Ali, who identifies as heterosexual. “I don’t know how to make them believe that I’m not [gay].
People to this day look at me in a different way and even call me names.”
For now, Ali fends off the false accusations with confessing her male crushes. As a woman who identified as straight, she often shares sympathy for young members of the LGBTQ community, considering the actions of her own parents.
“If I was bisexual or gay, why are you going to abandon your child?” asked Ali. “Spreading rumors that are not true are going to hurt me.”
Every month, Ali is joined by about a dozen students who struggle with LGBTQ micro-aggressions, daily slights of discrimination, as a result of their sexual identity. The Cambria Height’s Library is the first branch in Queens to offer a safe space to LGBTQ students and their allies.
For more than a year, Amber Loveless, a young adult librarian, has organized student led discussions about high school crushes, building confidence and finding a local LGBTQ role model.
“We haven’t talked about coming out [yet], but it probably will be a topic in the future,” Loveless said. “I’m here as a moderator. They come up with the monthly topics.”
Jasmine, 15, whose last name is not provided to protect her privacy, said she does not label her sexuality. She likes “anyone with a good heart.” Raised in a Moroccan household, Jasmine says her family believes being gay is a “strict sin.”
“It was a complete no-no in my mother’s country,” said Jasmine, a student at the Humanities and The Arts Magnet High School in Cambria Heights. “She says ‘you know you can go to hell for that. The only reason people are gay is because they have some kind of issue’.”
If Jasmine were to disclose her sexuality, she fears being disowned by her family.
“I know if I defend [myself], I’m going to make it seem obvious,” Jasmine said. “I know in my family. They’re never going to accept it. My mom would be embarrassed.”
A friend of Jasmine’s recently transferred schools after being bullied for their sexuality.
“They laughed at him and asked him if he likes girls,” Jasmine said. “It made me feel sad. No one should go through that just for being themselves.”
For the students at the LGBTQ center, the club is a haven for self-expression and freedom. News and pop culture are frequent topics at the meetings. After the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando, Florida last June, one student recalled being afraid to reveal the truth about their sexuality.
“It made me feel like I can’t be accepted in this world. They can accept everyone else so why can’t they accept me?” asked Adeejah,14, who identifies as bi-curious. “My brother was scared that something like this could happen in New York that can endanger him and his spouse.”
Adeejah added, “My brother started to cry. I never felt so bad.”
Currently, Adeejah is waiting until she’s an adult to come out about her sexuality.
According to the True Colors Fund, a housing advocacy program for LGBTQ youth, about 40 percent of LGBTQ youths experience homelessness. Considering that LGBTQ youth account for only seven percent of the population, these statistics are disproportionally high. The report said that homeless LGBTQ youth are at a greater risk of unsafe sexual practices, victimization, and mental trauma.
The Queens Library Teen Advisory Board (TAB), a peer-mentoring program which offers opportunities for civic engagement, said they counsel students who are struggling with their identity.
“Be courageous and stand up for yourself,” said Benjamin Hogarth,17, to one teen. “Be mindful of who you are surrounding yourself with.”
Hogarth added, “Bullying really starts with social media. People on social media are the ones to say stuff about you.”
According to the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and BullyingStatistics.org, 42 percent of LGBTQ youth have experienced cyberbullying. At least 35 percent of LGBTQ youth have received online threats, according to the report.
The president of TAB, Jennifer Ulcena, 17, of the Young Women’s Leadership School in Queens added, “There are a lot of pages on social media that can support [LGBTQ students]. For example, the male makeup artist that is now on Cover Girl can be an inspiration.”
Jaszmyne B.,16, of Hempstead, said her mom discovered she was gay while she was talking on the phone with a girlfriend. Jaszmyne’s mom is supportive, but some of her friends are not as lucky.
Jaszmyne recalled her male friend being called a “f****t” for wearing hair extensions.
“Everyone was bothering him and messing with his hair,” Jaszmyne said. “He cried. His parents came [to the school] and I never saw him again.”
“Just let people live their life,” she thought wishfully.
Those who would like to or may know someone that would like to take part in the monthly meetings, contact at Queens Library Cambria Heights branch, by calling (718) 528-3535. The library is located at 218-13 Linden Blvd.
The group meets once a month on a Wednesday.