overview

Many New York City public schools are named in honor of prominent figures in American and world history.

Emma Lazarus Public School 268, in Brooklyn, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

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History

Many New York City public schools are named in honor of prominent figures in American and world history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of the 25 public schools named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, although only one — Harvey Milk High School — intentionally honors an LGBT individual. This list includes Emma Lazarus Public School 268, in Brooklyn.

Born into a prominent Sephardic Jewish New York family, poet, author, and activist Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) is best known for her poem “The New Colossus,” which was written in 1883 for a fundraising effort to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Her now-famous words “Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” were not physically attached to the Statue of Liberty until 1903, over 15 years after her death. Lazarus was one of the first highly visible and successful Jewish American authors, and she also became an activist for Jewish causes. She never married, and there is evidence that she was fascinated by women in her social and political circles in same-sex partnerships, then sometimes called “Boston marriages.” Biographer Esther Schor writes that clues to the poet’s identity can be found in the poem “Assurance,” which is not “about choosing a lover; it is about being chosen by desire — erotic desire, and for the body and soul of a woman.”

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