The New York Civil Liberties Union’s Teen Activist Project (TAP) today unveiled a pair of creative projects that raise awareness about civil liberties issues that New York City students confront every day at school: a video on the rights of LGBTQ students and a photo essay documenting the overly aggressive policing in city schools. “Our teen activists have provided a unique and compelling voice to two crucial civil liberties issues facing city students, and they’ve done so with style and substance,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “Their outstanding work empowers young people to stand up for their rights and fight for safe, nurturing schools where everyone’s dignity is respected.” TAP is youth program that engages New York City teens as organizers and peer educators on civil rights and civil liberties. The group of high school students from all five boroughs meets weekly at the NYCLU’s offices to learn about and discuss civil liberties and legal issues, reproductive justice, public speaking and activism. The students use that knowledge to educate their peers on a range of issues, including free speech and religion, racial justice, immigrants’ rights, students’ rights and the rights of pregnant and parenting teens. Each year TAP members complete an advocacy project concerning a civil liberties issue of their choice. This year, TAP members tackled two important issues through a video and a photo essay. The Video The 98-second video is a fast-paced, catchy public service announcement that informs lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students about their rights at school, including the right to bring a same-sex partner to the prom, the right to wear close that do not conform to gender stereotypes, and access LGBTQ-related information on school computers. It also encourages students to take action to support their rights, such as starting a gay-straight alliance at their school.
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“So many students struggle daily with decisions on their rights as students, especially students who feel like they are not like the rest,” said TAP member Minerva Dickson, a senior at the High School for Civil Rights in Brooklyn. “Our video says, ‘Hey, you guys have rights, and the NYCLU is here to help.’” The TAP members devised the video’s concept, wrote the script and created a storyboard for it. Then they worked with a video production company, Extraneous Noise, to complete the project. “Being part of this video was very empowering for me. It gave me the power to inform students all over New York about the rights of LGBTQ student rights,” said TAP member Maria Mercado, 18, a senior at Secondary School for Law in Brooklyn. “By clicking on this link, they will learn about resources and rights to allow them to be themselves and feel comfortable in school.” The Photo Essay The photo essay, “Criminalizing the Classroom,” explores the affects of heavy-handed policing and zero-tolerance discipline policies on students in city schools. It will be displayed at Variety Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A gallery opening will be held on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the cafe, which is located at 368 Graham Ave. The exhibit runs through July 1. (Four selections from the photo essay appear to the right. The entire essay will be displayed on the NYCLU's website in August.) The essay comprises a series of photographs – shot by TAP members – that provide commentary on how the heavy-handed police presence clashes with schools’ educational mission. There are powerful images of students lined up to pass through metal detectors just to enter their schools and police greeting students at the school gate. “When you see the police activity in your school every day, it starts to seem normal, but when you see pictures of school safety officers and metal detectors in other schools, you realize how unjust the situation is,” said TAP member Hin Hon Wong, 17, a junior at the Bronx High School of Science. “These are schools, places for education, not prisons where students should be constantly watched and controlled with zero tolerance.” The essay also includes data on suspensions and student arrests that demonstrate how zero-tolerance discipline and aggressive policing push students into the criminal justice system. It also shows how these practices disproportionally affect students of color. “Working on this photo essay has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but I believe deep in my heart that it was worth it,” said TAP member Sade Singh, 17, a junior at Queens Collegiate High School. “I go to a school that implements the use of zero-tolerance policies and also has a scanning system, so I experience this criminalization every day, and I would like to help end it.”