NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut’s first school created specifically for LGBTQ+ students is opening in New Haven.

It’s called the PROUD Academy, founded by former teacher and principal Patricia Nicolari. She wanted to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies to learn without being bullied for how they identify. There’s only a handful like it across the country.  

“Instead of feeling like they don’t have a say in a school that they’re in, we’re going to empower them to have a voice,” Nicolari said. 

Nicolari faced bullying firsthand when she was a teacher. She said students speculated she was a lesbian and harassed her. She recalled one instance where students scratched “lez” into her car and another time when she found notes on her desk asking if she was gay. 

Because of the stigma, Nicolari didn’t come out until 1997. She does not want students to have the same experience. 

“I want students to feel good about who they are and not waste as much time as I did or people from my generation,” she said. 

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PROUD Academy plans to open this fall. Nicolari is considering the building, which used to be Riverside Academy on Ella T. Grasso Blvd, but she is looking at other real estate options as well as enrollment numbers come in. In the first year, they’re planning to accept 125 7th – 10th grade students.

Just the idea of a place like this has parents like Tiffani Wong excited and relieved. 

“There’s a lot of talk about zero tolerance and no bullying, and they teach you how to be different, but the fact is that’s more lip service than real life,” she said. “Just to be able to be in an environment where you can be safe and supported, I think it would be huge. It would change everything.” 

Wong’s child, Maddie Joyella, identifies as non-binary. They were bullied in their school, so we’re excited to hear about a school like PROUD Academy. 

“At my school, it’s not very inclusive,” they said. “It definitely affects your mental health and also makes you kinda nervous in school. Like when you’re trying to think about the work, all you can think is, ‘do I look bad? are people going to judge me for what I’m wearing?”

Maddie said a more accepting school would be better for students like them. 

PROUD Academy is also open to students who are not in the LGBTQ+ community. Nicolari said the interest has been overwhelming, but they are still accepting applications for this fall.

To fill out an “intent to enroll” form or find out more information about PROUD Academy, click here