Every month on the It Gets Better Blog, we’ll be highlighting some of the recipients of the 2022-2023 50 States. 50 Grants. 5,000 Voices opportunity, sharing their stories and a bit about the work they’re doing to make things better for LGBTQ+ students in school. 

As the students at Hackensack Middle School continue to work diligently on their project — a school-wide Pride event and more GSA activities — their passion to make things better for LGBTQ+ students is already prompting big change. In December, the GSA at Hackensack Middle School helped write a resolution with the school district’s superintendent to keep the inclusive Pride flag raised year round, not just during Pride Month. The resolution passed with full support from the Board of Education, and at a school-wide celebration, students shared why this show of support would change lives.

Watch the video below, and read that while Hackensack student Shruti Sangamkar is celebrating this victory, they say it’s the first step of many that need to be taken to make LGBTQ+ students feel truly seen and supported at school. 

Speaking at the Pride Flag raising in my school district was an incredibly fulfilling experience as someone who has been and continues to be a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. While I am grateful to be surrounded by peers who are strong allies, I recognize that this is not the case for many others within the walls of my school. Homophobic and transphobic rhetoric are inescapable, and considering that many students do not live in supportive households, words and actions driven by bigotry can feel suffocating and unbearable.

Because of these issues, I was simultaneously determined yet a bit nervous to give a speech at the Pride flag raising. I recognized that I was not only speaking on behalf of myself, but also for kids who do not have the privilege to protest against prejudice against our community.

The symbolism of the flag’s permanency is clear — our identities are valid and here to stay, no matter what the ignorant wish to say about it.

However, as I stated in my speech, this is just the beginning of a long process of proper integration of the LGBTQ+ in schools. Though momentous, a pride flag simply isn’t enough to mark that progress is occurring. Real change happens by altering the education system to better implement LGBTQ+ learning in curriculum. Additionally, we must use new methods to facilitate a healthier environment towards discussions about sexuality and gender identity within the student body. Until these things happen, I am unable to say that our district has done all it can to create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students.

My future expectations aside, the Pride flag raising is a step in the right direction for many reasons, and I will continue to fight for what is best for all students.

– Shruti Sangamkar is a student at Hackensack Middle School in New Jersey.