Boston’s FLAG (Friends, Lesbians and Gays) Flag Football League is thrilled to award its third-annual $2,500 youth scholarship to Joseph Piemonte from East Longmeadow (MA) High School.
Joe is an openly gay student-athlete, perhaps the first to participate on his school’s cross country, swim, and track and field teams. He faced his share of obstacles on the way to becoming captain of his swim team and making it to States each of the last three years, including one indelible incident shortly after he came out his freshman year. As he walked onstage during his school’s pep rally, in front of his entire school community, two classmates yelled out, “Faggot!” Joe describes the experience as the worst in his life, but he refused to let that stop him from being an openly gay student and athlete. Throughout his years at East Longmeadow, Joe encouraged other LGBT students to join sports teams, and he is no longer the only openly gay athlete at his school. As Joe says, “I had the courage to join a sports team and be proud of who I was, showing other students it was okay to be yourself and that there was no reason to be scared.”
Recognizing that change needed to occur at his school, Joe created a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) during his sophomore year and has been president ever since. Under his leadership, the GSA has grown to over 50 members, held a Parent Information Night, and students have observed the Day of Silence, a Compliment Day, Anti-Bullying Week, and No Name-Calling Week. The GSA marched in the Pride parade in Northampton, and the GSA created a video to explain gender identity to the East Longmeadow student body. Additionally, Joe presented a workshop at the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Massachusetts conference titled Running a Successful GSA. His GSA advisor, Jennifer Faulkner, credits Joe with personally convincing more than 90% of the school’s faculty to put up “Safe Space” stickers in their classrooms and getting an impressive number of local businesses to contribute to the GSA’s fundraising efforts.
According to his principal, Dr. Gina Flanagan, “Joseph was instrumental in the development and leadership of our school’s Gay Straight Alliance. This organization has been instrumental in helping us create a safe and positive school environment for all students. Joseph has initiated many activities that have brought awareness to a wide variety of LGBTQ issues. As a result, our school is much more accepting and supportive of our LGBTQ students.” She goes on to praise him for his leadership in coordinating several school-wide initiatives and for his willingness to always step forward to serve his school community.
The achievement of which Joe is most proud is a professional development presentation he made this year for the teachers and staff at his school. He taught his teachers how to handle anti-gay name-calling and include LGBT voices in their classrooms and curricula.
Joe explains that while he has not yet determined where he will be attending college this fall, his goal for the future is “to help LGBT people, especially teens. I would like to come into schools and create a better environment for students to come to learn. I believe we can create a world where LGBT students will want to go to school, and play sports, because they feel accepted and comfortable in their own skin. In order to create this world, we must start one step at a time.”
Joseph Piemonte is a leader and role model who has dedicated himself to making high school sports, and high school itself, safer for and more inclusive of LGBTQ youth. We honor him with this award and all of the attributes that led his GSA advisor and Latin teacher to say he “is one of the most amazing young people I have had the pleasure of working with in 13 years of teaching.” She went on to say, “I have personally witnessed other LGBT students coming to him for support, which he gives unstintingly…The legacy he’s left for our school is truly amazing, and I know generations of students will have cause to be grateful to his efforts to make our school more accepting.”