The following is edited and condensed from an interview with
Director Alex Tsonas
In order to provide the best educational experience for the young men it serves, Seaport Academy creates a safe environment where students can share all aspects of themselves with the community, including their gender identity and sexual orientation. According to Director Alex Tsnonas, the school focuses on six critical areas to support LGBTQ+ inclusion, from staffing to parent support.
In reflecting on LGBTQ+ students, Director Alex Tsonas notes that, as is true of other areas concerning diversity, equity and inclusion, it is important for students to have role models in the school. “There is something to be said about having staff from all backgrounds,” Alex explains. “As part of the hiring process, I am looking to hire people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is important to the school. It’s important to the staff and it’s important to the student community.”
Alex also is looking for staff members of all orientations who have “awareness and the ability to and mindset to promote diversity.” It is critical for the entire staff to be comfortable with these issues in order to “promote a safe environment for students.”
Similarly, when it comes to integrating the issues of sexual orientation and gender differences into the curriculum, Alex says, “Seaport believes that this is part of creating a safe space for the guys.” The school is continually looking at ways to further its work in this area. In addition to the general curriculum, the faculty uses current events to create opportunities for discussion and learning. For example, recent controversy about a rapper coming out in a video has been a way to focus on the topic of sexual orientation in real time.
Clinically, sexual orientation and gender identity are interwoven into Seaport’s work. In group and individual counseling and when doing check-ins, there is an openness to and considerable opportunity for these types of discussions to happen organically.
In a health class run by Alex, the young men are encouraged to discuss LQBTQ+ issues along with a range of equity matters. Alex adds that, as educators, we have to help students find the language to talk about sexual orientation and gender differences – in ways that are healthy and affirming.
The Seaport school environment makes it clear that it is welcoming of students of all genders and sexual orientations. Ensuring that the school is a safe space has been a priority this year, especially as the school returns to full-time, in-person classes. “We are creating that space, posters on the wall created by us, created outside of the school and created by the students,” Alex says. “We are also starting a GSA (a Genders & Sexualities Alliance) this year.”
“When it comes to professional development, clinicians and myself have participated in workshops in these areas,” Alex explains. “The nice thing about this – which wasn’t necessarily the case when I was in school – is that there is so much more education in this area.
“When I see interns coming out of the social work schools, they are getting that kind of education.” Then, Alex adds, it is up to the schools that hire them to continue to promote inclusive education. “We look at ways to bridge that gap here at Seaport,” he states, “Our clinical team, including me, as the administrator and health instructor, is working to ensure that Seaport never loses its focus on LGBTQ+ issues.” He went on to say that they are looking to increase the ways the school can include the entire staff in this effort.
While some schools have experienced pushback as they become more focused on equity for all marginalized populations, Seaport has found families enthusiastically embracing LGBTQ+ issues. Alex credits the Parent Advisory Committee’s leadership in this area, especially the leadership of two sets of parents who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and a strong part of the PAC. Alex shares that the parents are very open. They are very clear about who they are as people and parents – and that makes a huge difference for the families and, most importantly, the students.