Lesbian teacher opening ‘free from bullying’ LGBTQ+ school: ‘We’re ready for the storm’

A photo showing lesbian teacher Patricia Nicolari (left), with members of the PROUD Academy board holding a sign saying "PROUD Academy"

A lesbian teacher in Connecticut, United States, is planning to open an LGBTQ+ centred school later this year.

Patricia Nicolari’s PROUD (Proudly Respecting Our Unique Differences) Academy aims to provide “a safe and affirming educational environment where each student can engage in a rigorous curriculum free from bullying/harassment”.

The school also wants to support diversity of sexuality, gender identity, race, and disability, among other characteristics.

Nicolari tells PinkNews the need for such schools was “escalating” because of the current political rhetoric towards LGBTQ+ people in the United States – and says she isn’t “naive” enough not to expect right-wing backlash to the project.

“It’s such a political divide and we’re just offering a choice for students if they need a safe and affirming space,” she says.

Interest in the school was not just from LGBTQ+ identifying students either.

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Nicolari says there are queer parents wanting to send their children to the school because “we understand their family without having an explanation”.

“We have a transgender dad who has a pre-K child who said ‘I want to send my child to your school so my child knows that having a transgender dad is okay’.”

‘We’re not naive enough to think backlash won’t happen’

She also says other LGBTQ+ ally schools had large amounts of cis-gender and heterosexual identifying students on their rolls — Nicolari saying those students recognised the schools were places where everyone was being treated with respect.

Dozens of teaching staff were making inquiries, including people from overseas and five specifically wanting to be PROUD’s principal, she adds.

There have also been families from other states that have talked about relocating to send their children to the school.

Nicolari says this includes one family from Florida, where Don’t Say Gay laws were enacted last year.

Seeing such inquiries “absolutely validates” the school opening and its mission statement, she says.

“It lets us know we’re on the right track.”

Nicolari was motivated to open the school after coming out as a lesbian while teaching in 1997 and having experienced “harassment first-hand from students, coupled with a school atmosphere where it did not feel safe to ‘come out,'” the school’s website states.

The current “ambitious plan” is to have the private school open by September for the start of the next American school year for grades seven through 10.

LGBTQ+ rights advocates gather around in protest of Ron DeSantis and the 'Don't Say Gay' bill in protest
LGBTQ+ rights advocates and high schoolers have protested against Ron DeSantis and the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, an anti-LGBTQ+ measure signed by the governor in 2022. (Getty)

The reaction towards the school had been positive but Nicolari knew there could be backlash from people whose political views did not align with the school.

“We’re ready for the storm,” she says.

She says knew the other four LGBTQ+ ally schools in the US had previously been met with controversy too, including people protesting outside the schools.

“We’re not naive enough to think that won’t happen,” Nicolari adds.

However, she wanted people to recognise and understand they were “providing a safe space for students who want to come to PROUD”.

“What could be wrong with that?”

On its website, PROUD says the school leadership felt a “sense of urgency” about opening the school, with such a facility needed “especially for transgender youth”.

The school also stated that “dozens” of teaching staff had asked about working at the school.

A site for the school has not yet been secured but “a number of options are available”.

PROUD had also signed a partnership agreement with the four other explicitly LGBTQ+ ally schools in the US, including the Harvey Milk High School in New York.

The agreement included empowering students across the five schools to develop an LGBTQ+ resource guide for students and families to “best navigate safe and affirming states and … schools” to “guide families to best make decisions for their children … to not only survive, but thrive”.

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