Francis Lewis High School’s LGBTQ+ Club hosted its LGBT Professional Panel on May 20 via Zoom. Workers spoke with members about sexual orientation and sexual nonconformity not defining LGBT youth’s success in careers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Lauren Hidalgo, senior, explained the significance behind the panel for LGBT youth.
“The reason why we put together this panel was to show the experiences of many different people from different walks of life who are both LGBTQ+ and professionals so that students from our school can learn from their experiences,” Hidalgo said.
Arranging the venue with adviser Ms. Genovesi, Hidalgo said she and the members devised questions to ask the guests.
“We came to a consensus as to how the panel was supposed to go chronologically and then how much time we allowed for questions by the moderators versus how much time we allowed for the audience,” Hidalgo added.
Hidalgo reflected on how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come to extend the rights of the panelists to the rights of the members.
“I’m just happy to know that there are more opportunities for LGBT youth,” Hidalgo said. “The older members of the panel were noting how, back when they grew up, a panel like this was definitely not something that was really available to them as an opportunity to learn from other people.”
One of them was Dr. Melnick, a retired teacher and superintendent of North Shore schools.
“Growing up in the 50s and 60s, there were no role models at all,” said Dr. Melnick, who came out as gay when he was 27. “In fact, if there were any role models, they were negative. That was the impact it had on me growing up and it took a lot of undoing along the way.”
Addressing discrimination either personally or professionally, attorney Jared Reynolds said that he “holds an open conversation.”
“When I find someone whom I find to be ignorant or be blatantly discriminatory, I don’t let them get away with it — don’t let that conversation end that way,” said Reynolds, who came out as bisexual in 2015. “I push that conversation to the point of making people feel awkward for what they just said.”
His advice was “profound,” according to club member Fatimah Kihulo, junior.
“I feel that sometimes people don’t understand how even a small joke can be taken to heart, especially if they’re struggling with their sexuality,” Kihulo said.
Vice President Faustina Merveille, junior, said that she found the panel “inspiring.”
“It was more proof that there are people who we don’t even know personally who root for us and are there to support us,” Merveille said. “The fact that we have older people who can support the youth, coming to talk to us teenagers, meant a lot.”
According to Merveille, as schools remain close amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the club is still hosting meetings digitally.
“Even though we’re apart, we’re still here for you,” Merveille said. “There are multiple ways to contact us, like joining our Zoom calls for the club. We don’t always have to talk about club issues. It’s a club where you can confide in us.”
Merveille offered advice to students at home, where their parents may reject their sexual orientation or their sexual nonconformity.
“If people don’t have accepting parents, at least they know that they have adults out there who do support them [in the club],” Merveille added.
According to adviser Ms. Genovesi, creating “a space for individuals who are queer identifying and straight identifying to learn about the diverse umbrella of LBGTQ” was one of her top priorities when she founded the club five years ago.
“It allows LGBTQ students to share and have a voice and make more equitable changes for students like them in their school community,” Ms. Genovesi said.
Ms. Genovesi hopes LGBT youth can draw from the panelists’ experiences in the workforce.
“I want LGBTQ youth to understand that they are not alone, and that the path has been carved for them, and that they will continue to carve the path for others,” Ms. Genovesi said. “I want students to feel empowered to enter these spaces knowing that they can and will make a difference.”