By Dick Brennan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The power of literature and storytelling can change lives. For kids, books can open a window of understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals.

There’s now a free curriculum available to high schools to do just that, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported.

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Hope in a Box ultimately wants to make LGBTQ-inclusive education the norm, rather than the exception in every single public school in this country,” said founder and executive director Joe English.

That’s a lofty ambition, but English seems to be on his way to doing just that.

“At its heart, Hope in a Box helps educators create classrooms that are safe and welcoming and inclusive for all students, but particularly LGBTQ students,” English said.

The program is, literally, a box containing more than two dozen books featuring LGBTQ characters and themes, plus curriculum guides and information for further outreach.

“We give that free to rural high schools and lower income high schools,” said English. “It would have meant the absolute world to have had even one book assigned in class or one unit that acknowledged LGBTQ people.”

Growing up gay, English said, fueled his mission to bring more equity to public education.

He started the program in 2018 as a pilot in about 30 schools. It will be in more than 1,000 schools across the country by the end of this academic year, he said.

“Their mission really is impactful,” said Kelly Grady, a librarian at Meadow Hill School in Newburgh, New York.

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“A child is not afraid to go up to their librarian and say, you know, ‘I’m questioning my gender identity. Do you have any books about a kid like me?'” Grady said.

Liany Rodriguez and Aliana Aviles are students at East Side Community High School in Manhattan, where the Hope in a Box curriculum is offered.

“It teaches kids at a young age that this is how the world is, and we have to accept others for who they are,” said Aliana, a 9th grader.

“I can know, how other people live and how other people dealt with that sort of situation,” said Liany, also in 9th grade.

Both are finalists in a Hope in the Box essay competition.

As issues of equality and acceptance are brought to the forefront during Pride Month, English says celebrations are welcome, but should not stop there.

“That’s important to have a dedicated moment of joy, but I think for me, personally, it’s about appreciating how far we’ve come and how much there is still left to do,” English said.

The program has grown in popularity; about 500 schools are on the waiting list for the materials.

English said he’s determined to get Hope in a Box to every school that requests it.

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For more information about Hope in a Box, click here.

Dick Brennan