Jared Fox, 28, knows first-hand about the perils of intolerance.
Just two years ago, when Fox was visiting his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, from New York, he was brutally attacked by a group of teenagers. They beat him, stole his belongings and called him anti-gay slurs. He suffered bruises all over his body.
Only a decade earlier, Fox had been the founder of his public Cleveland high school's first Gay Straight Alliance, a club that became one of the largest in the school and allowed Fox to express himself freely as a gay student, he says. He was dismayed to learn that some of his attackers -- two of whom were found responsible for the incident -- likely attended the same school.
"Over the course of that trial, I really discovered a lot of things about myself and the environment I left there in Cleveland," said Fox. "We can't just start a GSA in a school and think that’s it. We can’t just train teachers and say that things are going to be amazing. We really have to educate the community."
In January, Fox became the first LGBT community liaison for the New York City Public School system, the largest school system in the country. The goal is to make sure schools are safe for LGBT students and teachers, to make sure schools are fostering inclusive environments and to create a lasting change through programs that educate students about the importance of tolerance.
Prior to taking on this new position, Fox had been working in the technology division in the New York City Department of Education, training teachers to use iPads and smart boards. He spent several years as a teacher in New Orleans before that. He has been an active volunteer with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network for years. But his trip back home to Cleveland two years ago solidified his desire to dedicate himself to teaching tolerance.
"I'm from this community, and I went back for just one weekend, and the first night I was there that happened," Fox said of his attack. "It changed my life. It confirmed that I'm in this for the long run."
The New York City Council voted to fund the first LGBT community liaison position under the charge of NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. Dromm came out as gay when he was a teacher in the early '90s.
"Back in those days, LGBT teachers and students were mostly closeted," Dromm said last week in a statement about the announcement of Jared's position. "With the appointment of Jared Fox as the new LGBT liaison, the Department has taken a bold step forward to assure students and teachers alike that anti-gay discrimination will not be tolerated and that, in fact, the Department will look for ways to be more inclusive of the LGBT communities."
For Fox, his first weeks on the job have consisted of mostly listening, figuring out what needs to be done and deciding what he should set as tangible goals. By the end of the year, he hopes to launch a program that brings LGBT authors into English classrooms to talk about their books. He wants to figure out what it would take to get gender-neutral bathrooms in schools. He is thinking about how to design a curriculum that is more inclusive of all students.
But most of all, he wants to make sure that New York City kids never feel afraid to go to school.
"This is 28 years of dreaming of what I would want to do when I grew up," said Fox of the job. "To wake up in the morning and be able to know the work I'm going to do is going to make school safer for everybody, not just LGBT kids ... I think it's amazing. I feel blessed."