NYer Of The Week: Gay Teen Educates Classmates About Acceptance
The latest New Yorker of the Week is stepping up and stepping out by helping to educate others about acceptance. NY1's Vivian Lee has the story.
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For high school junior Manny Leyva, being a teenager means more than just worrying about grades, pimples, and being cool.
“I didn't want to be noticed because I was gay,” Leyva says. “I was afraid to raise my hand and speak to the class.”
But last year, Leyva worked up the courage to tell his friends and family. And teachers say he became the only openly gay male at Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, which has 700 students.
“When I walk around the school hallways and within the street, I don't have to give an image, but I want to give an image to everyone that I am gay, I am a teenager, I am different, and I want to teach them that,” he says.
This year, Leyva helped found Students Together for Empowerment and Peace (STEP). The student group meets once a week, to talk about issues like sexuality, racism, and image in school and the community.
“I want to help those teenagers who once felt like me, or feel like me,” says Leyva. “I want them to feel like it’s okay to be gay and it’s ok to be different.”
In STEP's last meeting of the year, Leyva led a workshop about self-esteem.
“This is something that he really took initiative and decided to pursue and we, of course, support him,” says STEP advisor John Grauwiler.
Leyva also interns at Health and Education Alternatives for Teens (HEAT), a clinic for HIV-positive adolescents and those at risk of becoming infected.
“He informs some of the kids about the events that we are doing, and he'll come into the STEP program and do his small HIV 101 and have the kids learn about what he has learned at his internship site,” says HEAT program coordinator Richelyne Nemorin.
Leyva says recent highly publicized suicides of gay teens worry him and make him more determined to educate his peers.
“It's really so sad to see that not only one, but many teenagers have to die to prove that we are humans and that it hurts to be isolated and segregated because of our sexual orientation,” he says.
And so for stepping up to be a voice for gay teenagers, Manny Leyva is our New Yorker of the Week.
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