PMHS senior Jordan Schwarz selected for PWP student activism award

Editor’s note: This press release was provided by the Progressive Women of Pelham. The Pelham Examiner publishes press releases in the form received as a service to the community.

June 27, 2022 – Progressive Women of Pelham (PWP) awarded its annual Violet Massie-Vereker Student Activist Award to PMHS senior Jordan Schwarz. The award recognizes a Pelham high school senior who has been a leader in any of the following areas: social justice, climate change, access to universal healthcare, comprehensive reproductive health services, economic justice, free speech, voting rights or human rights. Jordan was presented with the award at the Picture House Pelham last night, prior to the PWP sponsored Pride Month community screening of CODED. They received a $1000 grant with the recognition.

“I am very honored to receive this award that has been given to several other incredible leaders that I strive to be like,” Jordan said. “I look forward to continuing my fight for LGBTQ+ students and I hope that my work will encourage other Pelham students to continue what I have started.”

At the same event, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who first heard about Jordan’s activism through PWP, presented them with a special Citation from the New York State Assembly, recognizing their singular contributions to our community.

Jordan has been a leader in making Pelham Memorial High School a more welcoming and comfortable place for gender non-conforming students. In the spring of 2021, they gave a presentation about the need for a gender-neutral bathroom to the Pelham School District’s Health and Wellness Committee, of which they have been a member since freshman year. To prepare, they spent months researching the issue and conducting surveys among other gender non-conforming PMHS students.. Students reported not drinking water all day to avoid having to use gendered bathrooms. Jordan presented a concrete plan for the location, implementation, and necessary signage for the proposed bathroom. The Board of Education subsequently voted to approve the addition of a gender-neutral bathroom for students in April 2021, but it has yet to be installed more than a year later.

Jordan also met with PMHS administrators about the need for updated staff development sessions that train teachers and staff on how to create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ students. “A simple change like a teacher addressing the class with the word ‘students’ instead of ‘boys and girls’ makes a world of difference in helping students feel more comfortable,” added Jordan. They also lobbied unsuccessfully for the school to adopt one color instead of two for graduation gowns to avoid their gendering. They worked with Pelham Together to give out pronoun pins at school to any student or faculty member who wanted them. “Having these pins accessible and widespread lessens the stigma around pronoun usage and encourages pronoun sharing to become a part of the school culture,” they said. “I designed the pins and we had them printed and distributed at the school.”

Jordan has written for the Pelham Examiner and on the Pelham Together website on the topic of LGBTQ+ advocacy in order to spread awareness in our community. A visual artist, they have applied their passion for art to create works about gender identity, the topic of their AP Art portfolio.  They have also been involved for several years with the Gender and Family Project (GFP) at Ackerman Institute for the Family, which supports LBGTQ+ youth and their families. This program promotes transgender advocacy and provides a supportive space for transgender and non-binary youth. In April of 2021, they were appointed Youth Ambassador for GFP, representing the organization on social media and serving as a role model for transgender adolescents. In 2021, Jordan was nominated for the 2021 Colin Higgins National Youth Courage Award.  They will be attending Wesleyan University in the fall.

“Jordan’s advocacy within and outside of our school district to ensure that LGBTQ+ students are able to learn in a safe and fully supported environment is nothing short of inspiring,” said PWP Executive Board member Melissa LaBonte. “Their commitment to improving school climate affirms progressivism’s focus on holistic change, including community awareness-raising; staff/teacher professional development; and creating supportive spaces for transgender and non-binary student peers.”

The annual PWP award was created to recognize the ground-breaking activism of PMHS 2019 graduate Violet Massie-Vereker who, in March 2017, organized the first political march in Pelham history to support the Bill of Rights, civil and women’s rights, and immigration protection, all under threat during the Trump administration. In 2018-19, Massie-Vereker was nationally recognized for her leadership on gun control and, as a founding member of Pelham Eliminates Plastics, recognized locally for her advocacy work around climate change. Then PWP co-chair Marisa Panzani said in 2019: “We hope Violet’s legacy is to inspire the next generation of Pelham students to advocate for change that promotes social justice and progressive values.”

“We see Violet’s legacy continued in this extraordinary high school senior, the bold leader we need to meet the many challenges of our time,” said PWP Executive Board member Solange Hansen. “As Jordan begins the next chapter of their lives, we look forward to their work as a force for social justice, freedom, and fairness throughout our country and in the world.”