Lisa La Monica saves gay kids’ lives. When you see her coming you’d better get on board or get out of the way but don’t try to stop her when she reaches out to catch another child on the verge of despair.
Miss La Monica, as she is affectionately known by youth all over South Florida, will stand up to the tallest, ugliest and meanest people in her quest to make it ok for all children to be who they are.
“It hurts me to see the new high school students whose self-esteem has been shattered by middle school abuse or by family rejection, or both,” said La Monica. “There’s a lot of pain for such young people to be carrying around. I just have to do something.”
And she does.
La Monica was born in Brooklyn and raised in Staten Island where she attended Wagner College, a small private institution. She started her career in education at Catherine McAuley High School, a private Catholic school for girls with an outreach to poor and under educated young women.
However, La Monica wanted to buy a house and New York prices were prohibitive. Besides, her sister who had moved to South Florida some years before and was now expecting twins; so she opted for Miami and moved down in 1990.
Her first Florida job was at Miami Jackson Senior High School, an inner city school with many of the troubles she recognized from her own inner city high school days in New York.
It was here in the early ‘90s that she volunteered to participate in the Sexual Minority Network being developed by the Student Services Department in the Miami-Dade School District.
The program invited educators to participate in training programs on sexual minority issues to be the “go to” resources at their home schools. They were also expected to facilitate youth groups to provide LGBT students a safe place to gather and share their lives with other LGBT youth.
“It took three years before my first group happened although I had made the space available and kept putting out notices and fliers,” said La Monica. “I learned you just had to be patient and persistent.”
“Then one day three students came and that was the start,” she said. “For the rest of the time I was at Jackson I had between three and six teens at every session.”
Krop was a very different story. From the day the school opened, there was a demand for LGBT support. There were seven or eight youth at the first meeting and it’s not uncommon to have 45 to 50 students show up.
About six years ago La Monica engaged with the newly formed Safe Schools South Florida, which had grown out of the local chapter of the national Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
In addition to being a trainer/facilitator for their programs, she trains youth speakers who participate in the workshops – all this on top of running two LGBT student groups and a guidance counselor workload of five to seven hundred students.
La Monica has also become sponsor for the Krop GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance).
“The GSA youth have taken up the challenge and do a lot,” she said. “We’re one of very few schools that honors Transgender Day of Remembrance with displays and activities,” she added.
On top of everything else, La Monica’s husband of 14 years, Brian Braun, is the SpeakOUT Bureau Coordinator for Safe Schools South Florida coordinating adult speaker training with La Monica’s youth program.
“He always supports my work and is an advocate for LGBT youth as well,” said La Monica. “We met in an online chat room where he was the resident guru on ADHD and I was doing research to help my students with ADHD diagnoses.”
Lisa La Monica saves gay kids’ lives. When you see her coming you’d better get on board or get out of the way.