Connecticut’s first LGBT-focused school will open this year

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

In response to what teacher Patricia Nicolari claims is a strong demand from Connecticut parents, the state’s first LGTBQ-centered school is set to open this September.

The PROUD Academy — short for “Proudly Respecting Our Unique Differences Academy” — aims to offer a “safe and affirming” environment for LGTBQ students, free from bullies and the kind of harassment she herself faced from students over the course of her 30-year teaching career.

Nicolari told NBC News that students left her notes asking if she was a lesbian. The nastier ones called her a “dyke” and scratched “Lez” into her car.

“At the time, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going through so much anxiety as a teacher. I can’t imagine what our students go through questioning themselves and how unsafe it is for them to come out,'” she said.

According to the PROUD Academy’s website, her school will “support a diverse population inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or disabilities” and “empower our learning community to recognize strength in their uniqueness.”

Initially, Nicolari planned on offering classes to 7th- through 12th-graders, but “there’s been a strong demand from parents with younger children as well, and she now plans to accommodate these families,” NBC reports.

“Some parents are just saying, ‘I just want my child to be happy again,'” Nicolari said. “And if we can offer that to a family? That’d be priceless.”

The location for the new school has not yet been determined, but Nicolari plans to open it in New Haven, home of Yale University. Thanks to that “strong demand,” she plans to welcome students as young as grade three.

For students such as 13-year-old Loki, the PROUD Acadamy will no doubt be a welcomed refuge.

Melissa Combs said Loki, her transgender son, is routinely bullied for his gender identity at his Farmington, Connecticut, middle school.

Combs dedicates her time to raising funds for the Academy, saying it will be “life-changing” for Loki.

“This means that I won’t knowingly send my child into a hostile environment every day,” Combs said. “It means that my kid will get to be who he is 100% of the time.”

“The private school’s curriculum aims to include educational basics like math and science classes, rigorous courses at the Advanced Placement and honors levels, and lessons that touch upon LGBTQ history and literature,” NBC News explains. “In addition to fostering a queer-friendly environment, Nicolari said she wants to hire mental health counselors who can cater to the specific challenges of these youths.”

Now, there are two very compelling arguments to be made, both for and against, a school such as this.

Some might say that public schools would be better off without trans girls stepping on the accomplishments of biologically-female student-athletes. There would be no confrontations over bathrooms, no talk of gender fluidity in the classrooms, and no need to hide the curriculum from conservative parents.

Children struggling with their sense of self could explore every color of the rainbow in a place like the PROUD Academy, and could likely focus more on academics than ducking daily abuse from kids who can be notoriously cruel.

But it’s that “sense of self” struggle that poses potential problems with a school that will openly filter the school experience through an ideological lens.

Struggling with your identity is a fundamental part of growing up and without the checks and balances sometimes brutally issued by your peers, the opportunity to find oneself is limited in such a safe bubble by a lack of conflicting points of view, values, and experiences.

Teenagers are fickle. They change their minds and their interests as often as they change their hairstyles.

But even if they were certain at an impossibly young age of their gender identity, upon graduating and entering the real world, some might argue, the student may find they never learned the tools necessary to cope with people who don’t constantly affirm their “uniqueness.”

And, as is becoming increasingly clear, many of the youths who “transitioned” early in their lives are now regretting that decision after subjecting themselves to harmful puberty blockers and irreversible surgical procedures.

With a school like PROUD, not only with the checks and balances be removed from the student’s life, the parents, too, will have fewer peers who might counter the almost hysterical notion that their anxiety-ridden child will kill themselves if they aren’t allowed to dictate their pronouns and cut off their breasts.

PROUD Academy proudly states, “We’re more than a school. We’re a movement.”

And Nicolari has big plans for that movement.

“The political climate absolutely accelerated the need for a PROUD Academy and a need for PROUD Academies across the United States,” she said. “Our kids matter. Their lives matter. Their education matters. Their mental health matters. And we can’t have our students and families be bullied into being less than they’re capable of being.”


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Melissa Fine


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