Yonkers LGBT Center Director Calls Michael Sam 'A Valuable Role Model'

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Santo Barbagiovanni, a New Rochelle resident, is the director of Center Lane, an LGBTQ resource center in Yonkers run by Westchester Jewish Community Services.
Santo Barbagiovanni, a New Rochelle resident, is the director of Center Lane, an LGBTQ resource center in Yonkers run by Westchester Jewish Community Services. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Santo Barbagiovanni

YONKERS, N.Y. -- LGBT advocate Santo Barbagiovanni believes Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player, is a valuable role model for LGBT youth. 

Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams last Saturday, a victory that shocked some, as he came out as gay just days before the NFL Scouting Combine. He celebrated his triumph by kissing his partner on camera. The moment was later broadcasted on TV stations across the country. 

Many people reacted positively to the news, and the jersey of Michael Sam is the now No. 2 seller from the NFL draft, according to NFLShop.com. It was beat only by Johnny Manziel, a quarterback taken in the first round by the Cleveland Browns.

Barbagiovanni, a New Rochelle resident, is the director of Center Lane, an LGBTQ resource center in Yonkers run by Westchester Jewish Community Services.

He received his Master’s in Social Work from Florida Atlantic University's School of Social Work, and has more than 10 years of experience working with LGBTQ adolescents and youth.

"It's important for everyone to have role models they can look up to. Michael Sam is a great example for LGBTQ individuals," he said, "LGBTQ people have an overwhelming burden to overcome a lot of the obstacles to deal with when coming out: acceptance and inclusion, self esteem, et cetera."

He added that having a role model can teach youth that identifying as LGBTQ does not have to be a barrier between them and success.

According to Santo, LGBTQ individuals have often felt unwelcome in the sports community, because of scrutiny they face from their teammates and coaches. However, there are some people here in Westchester who are making sports a friendlier place for everyone.

Santo pointed out Anthony Nicodemo, head coach of the Saunders High School varsity boys basketball team, as someone who is really making a difference.

"He came out of the closet, and he has taken a really big advocacy role in Westchester County. He hears a lot of stories about what athletes face because he's able to speak to people in the community," he said.

Santo said that even though he does not believe it is Sam's obligation to advocate for LGBTQ individuals, he should consider it.

"He should know if he did advocate for LGBTQ youth, and if he did take on the responsibilities and role of a role model, that he would truly help them," he said. 

Learn more about Center Lane here.

What do you think? Is Michael Sam a good role model for LGBTQ children? Join the conversation below.

@suzannesamin

ssamin@dailyvoice.com

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WJCS' Center Lane honors and commends athletes like Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon and Wade Davis for openly identifying as LGBTQ. They can impact so many LGBTQ youth by using their celebrity and influence as role models, and advocate for LGBTQ youth that continue to struggle with feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. At Center Lane, the only community center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth in Westchester County we provide a supportive environment and opportunities to learn helpful skills and foster growth through a variety of groups, workshops, and supportive counseling using evidenced-based models. These help to strengthen our participants, who range in age from 13 to 21 and represent a range of ethnic cultures, income brackets, talents and strengths.

Santo Barbagiovanni, Director, WJCS Center Lane.