Fifteen-year-old lesbian activist Amelia Roskin-Frazee who organized her middle school’s first GSA—in California—has gone on to found the Make It Safe Project which provides packages of LGBTQ focused books to schools and homeless shelters across the country.
Lambda caught up with Amelia to talk with her about the Make it Safe project, her involvement in LGBTQ activism, and the role books play in the coming out process.
When did you become involved in LGBTQ activism?
I became involved in LGBTQ activism when I came out to my class the summer before my 8th grade school year. When I got mixed reactions, I decided to start my middle school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Later in the year, I decided I wanted to help make change on a bigger scale so I applied to be a GLSEN Student Ambassador so I could help spread GLSEN’s message of safe schools for all students nationwide.
Can you talk a little bit about what prompted you to found the Make It Safe Project?
One day I was going through my middle school’s library, I discovered there were few books that covered topic of sexual orientation and gender expression. Further research revealed that few schools had fiction and nonfiction books that covered these topics, and few school health curricula covered same-sex relationships. Books have been a huge part of my life, and they are a fantastic tool that not only provide knowledge, but also comfort. That is why I decided that sending books to schools (as well as a few youth homeless shelters) would be a great way to make a possibly life-saving impact on the lives of LGBTQ teens.
What are the goals of the Make It Safe Project?
My goals for the Make It Safe Project are to provide books for any school or shelter that does not have access to them. I have a few less broad goals too: I want to reach schools in every state by the end of 2012, open it up to international schools, and reach more LGBTQ-inclusive youth homeless shelters.
How do you select where the books are sent?
On the website (www.makeitsafeproject.org), there is a Contact Us page. There, students, teachers, principals, and parents can fill out a form detailing where their school is, what grade levels it has, what funding the GSA has access to, how much bullying takes place, etc. I then correspond with teachers and students who are active in the GSA. We determine where books would go, how they would be protected and made available to all students, and how they would be used to increase safety at the school. If it is clear that the school needs books and could make them available for all students, I send them a book box.
Which books do your packages include? How did you select them?
Generally, my box includes: Annie On My Mind, by Nancy Garden; Empress of the World, by Sara Ryan; Luna, by Julie Anne Peters; Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan; Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown; It Gets Better, ed. by Dan Savage and Terry Miller; GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens, by Kelly Huegel; Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, by Kathy Belge; and Like Me, by Chely Wright. However, depending on the needs of the school, I sometimes swap a few books out for other books. For example, when I send a box to a school where a large number of students are homeless or to an LGBTQ-inclusive youth homeless shelter, I include Kicked Out ed by Sassafras Lowrey.
How do you hope these book packages will impact the youth that receive them?
I hope that these books will serve as not only a resource for questions that many LGBTQ teens have, but also as a source of comfort. Books can also be a lifeline for teens who have no one to turn to.
Where have books already been sent?
I have now sent books to schools in seven states:California,Arizona,New Jersey,North Dakota,Pennsylvania,Texas, andMichigan. I have also sent books to a large LGBTQ-inclusive youth homeless shelter inCalifornia.
What has the response been like?
The response has been amazing. People have really supported the project, and I have had many teens e-mail me to tell me how books have changed their lives. It feels incredible to know that I am truly making a difference in people’s lives.
How do you hope to see the Make it Safe Project grow in the future?
I hope to see people continuing to contribute donations so that I can continue to provide resources to schools and homeless shelters in need. I also hope to see more teens contribute to the Story section of the site. There, anyone with GSA experience can write an anonymous story about it for others to read.
What role have LGBTQ themed books played in your own coming out process?
LGBTQ themed books, while they were difficult to find, were extremely helpful to me. Aside from the amazing coming out advice the books I read had to offer, my middle school’s health curriculum only covered heterosexual relationships. The books I found provided me with important knowledge that I would not have had without them.
What’s your favorite book?
That is a cruel question. There are so many! Many of my favorites are in my book box. I would say my current favorite book is Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden, one of the fiction books I send. However, there are so many books out there that I love, it is really hard to choose.
In your “about me” section you talk about writing a novel, what is your novel about?
My novel is about a fifteen-year-old girl who writes her dead girlfriend back to life. I’m currently on draft four of it.
How can folks best support the Make It Safe Project?
I realize that many people can not donate, so simply spreading awareness about the project is a fantastic way to help if you are unable to contribute money. Spreading awareness allows more teens to find the site who need books, and also allows more people to learn about the lack of resources that are generally available for LGBTQ teens.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about the project?
This project is important not only because it gives teens access to information they would not normally get, but also because it can save lives. It is devastating how many young lives have been taken by ignorance-based bullying, and having information available can help those people learn about why bullying is not only cruel: it is dangerous. It can also be a lifeline for teens who are not supported by their families or friends.