Education, tolerance and Hauppauge community involvement are fundamental keys to preventing bullying and ensuring the Dignity for All Students act are a success, according to Judy Shepard.
Shepard, whose gay son Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, spoke to a auditorium packed with students, parents, and teachers in 's auditorium on Wednesday morning at the Superintendent's conference.
"Educate, educate Educate. Bring understanding where you see hate and ignorance. Bring light into the darkness," Shepard said.
Shepard shared her personal story of learning about Matthew's attack on October 17, 1998 in Wyoming. Matthew was severely beaten by two men, then left tied to a fence to die because he was gay.
"You choose whether or not your are going to discriminate based on something you see as different, or decide whether you are going to accept human beings as human beings no matter what," she said. "We are all the same."
Shepard said tolerance and respect for others is heavily influenced by the public discussion and stereotypes. In more than 30 other states, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender adults can be fired from their job.
"It compounds the problem of trying to introduce community welcoming in schools when teachers are so afraid they might be fired because they are suspected of or actually are gay. How can they interact with young people in a school district if they themselves are afraid," she said.
New York became the. Shepard called it a step forward, but only one step in changing the public dialogue towards gays and other groups.
"You need to be storytellers too," Shepard told Hauppauge residents. "You need to tell your stories, that's what makes it personal and that's what makes it real. I put a fact on anti-gay hate and prejudice. I show people what happens when you let prejudice exist."
Hauppauge school district is preparing to implement New York State's Dignity for All Students policy. By July 1, New York State Department of Education requires all school districts to expand their code of conduct to include language and policies on the awareness and sensitivity in the relations of people, including but not limited to, different races, weights, national origins, ethnic groups, religions, religious practices, mental or physical abilities, sexual orientations, gender identity or expression, and sexes, according to the Department of Education's website.
"This is a dramatic step forward every state in the union needs to take. They need to realize they are the solution to the problem," Shepard said. "It takes the commitment of the community, parents, teachers, staff. Everyone who lives here needs to make it a priority so it can work."
District staff spent Wednesday afternoon in break out sessions discussing and learning about bullying in schools, methods to prevent it and more.
Hauppauge parents raised concerns about the district's bullying policies in February, after receiving news of a fight between a group of students at . Some questioned if they were stringent enough, or if existing policies work.
Under the Dignity for All Students Act, school districts will be responsible for reporting discriminatory acts or harassment on an annual basis to the state.