The Pronoun Pins Project
Jose Figueroa-Rivera (he/him) teaches 11th grade English at Clifton High School and has been on the staff since 2012. For much of that time, he has also served as the advisor for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (previously called the Gay/Straight Alliance, the name change was made to be more inclusive while maintaining the known GSA acronym). Mr. Figueroa-Rivera stepped in as faculty advisor to the club after realizing that there were students meeting on their own for this purpose in the Teen Center but with no official standing as a club.
Soon after he noted that there were a lot of well-intentioned staff who wanted to do and say the right things to their LGBTQ students but who weren't always sure of what to do or say. He had become the de facto representative for the school's GSA club, frequently receiving questions from his colleagues. With the help of several students from the club, Mr. Figueroa-Rivera organized a judgment-free Q&A, where staff were invited to come and ask questions of all kinds to students from the GSA. His classroom, he said, was overflowing into the hallway. There was a ton of interest, lots of engagement, and plenty of learning to share. Mr. Figueroa-Rivera recalls receiving notes of thanks from some of his colleagues after the event, which told him just how much this education was needed. Following its success, he coordinated with Nicole Turi, the district supervisor for Physical and Health Education, to do a similar Q&A specifically for the district's physical and health education teachers. These educators are the ones most directly tasked with addressing topics of gender and sexuality as part of the state standards. In addition to hosting these Q&A sessions, Mr. Figueroa-Rivera and students from the GSA collaborated on a list of resources for students, parents, and staff.
In 2020 and in conjunction with the Clifton Education Association, Mr. Figueroa-Rivera organized an online training for staff, students, and parents who were interested in learning how to be more inclusive in their language and how best to support LGBTQ students. “Supporting Queer Youth in the School Environment” was held virtually and again, was a popular and successful event.
A student from the GSA suggested that it would be helpful if everyone wore a pin on their school lanyard to offer their own pronouns. Normalizing the offering of one's pronouns is an important step towards destigmatizing it. It is one visible way that allies - people who stand with the LGBTQ community in support - can help. When everyone offers their own pronouns as a matter of course, then nobody sticks out when they offer theirs. With the support of Mr. Hamdeh, CHS principal, Mr. Figueroa-Rivera set out to make it happen. He wanted the pins to be available at no cost to encourage participation so with the support and help of Vice Principal Victoria Rogers, he turned to DonorsChoose, which is an organization that helps teachers get financial support for various classroom projects. In just three days the project was fully funded by donations from the community.
The Pronoun Pin Project was advertised during morning announcements and via student emails and approximately 200 requests were fulfilled. There are several choices in a wide variety of colors - she/her, he/him, they/them, she/they, he/they, they/she, they/he, or you can request a blank pin and write in your own if needed. If you would like a pronoun pin of your own to wear on your school lanyard, the Google form is HERE. Students and staff in any of our Clifton public schools are welcome to request one. Mr. Figueroa-Rivera also recommends that people add their pronouns to their email signatures - again, as a way of normalizing it so that nobody needs to feel awkward or different when offering their own.
Mr. Figueroa-Rivera's advice to parents who may be unsure of how to respond if their child questions their gender identity or sexual preference: “Let them be who they are, knowing that might change...or maybe not. That’s going to make them happier…if they know they have the freedom to be who they are.”
"I want to remind the community that there is no 'gay agenda,'" Mr. Figueroa-Rivera concluded. "We are just trying to look out for our kids - not just our queer kids but all kids, so that they know that whoever they are, whatever they are, they belong here. Advocating for the LGBTQ community sends that message - you have the right to exist and to be happy."