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Astoria school sings praises of respect

With song, dance and video, the students of William Cullen Bryant High School spread messages of understanding and anti-prejudice as they participated in the second year of the city Department of Education’s Respect for All Week.

“The kids are highly motivated for this event,” said Principal Aaron Perez of Bryant, at 48-10 31st Ave. in Astoria.

Run by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Meditation, Leadership and Yearbook groups, the event featured a chorus singing in multiple languages; a video of student-written and -performed skits about how to show respect to people of different creeds, cultures, physical abilities and sexual orientations; and students grooving in feather boas to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

The president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, Sammy Radovic, 18, also spoke about having respect for others. He described how while walking on Steinway Street one evening, three men followed him making homophobic comments and then spit on him. When he finished speaking, his fellow students gathered around him and hugged him.

“Sammy inspires me, and I’m sure he inspires every single one of you here,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who is openly gay.

Van Bramer, a 1987 graduate of Bryant, was one of the speakers at the event. He was joined by Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and journalist and community activist Felipe Luciano.

Bryant’s event was one of dozens taking place throughout the city. Queens’ other openly gay Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Miss New York 2010 Claire Buffie visited Newtown High School at 48-01 90th Street in Elmhurst, Dromm’s office said. While there, he spoke of his own history wherein he dealt with bullying and anti-gay discrimination, his office said.

Quinn, who is also openly gay, said she attended last year’s Respect for All Week, and said she had initially been afraid for the kids from the Gay-Straight Alliance when they came out on stage.

“I thought in my mind, ‘Oh, God, they’re going to be booed,’ and you gave them a standing ovation,” Quinn told Bryant’s student body. “I will never forget that moment.”

She said that given the recent suicides of many teenagers who were gay or perceived to be gay, such as Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his fellow students filmed him having sex and put in on the Internet´╗┐, the week was more important than ever.

“We are creating, we hope, a zero-tolerance zone when it comes to bullying,” Van Bramer said.

Luciano, the keynote speaker at the celebration, spoke about his experience as a black Puerto Rican and overcoming his internal prejudices about people of other races and religions. He encouraged students to learn other languages and go to places of worship other than their own to learn about other people.

“Respect your fellow man,” Luciano said, “because that is the legacy of America.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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