(CNN)In middle school, it's hard to be different. It's even harder if a student identifies as LGBTQ.
Middle school invites drag queens to encourage students to be themselves
This week, a couple of teachers at Central Park School for Children in Durham, North Carolina, decided to enlist the help of some local drag queens to celebrate the unique differences between the school's students.
Taylor Schmidt, an eighth-grade teacher at the school, and his colleague, Schara Brooks, saw the impact bullying and other negative behavior was having on students in their school who identify as LGBTQ. They said students were even leaving the school because of some of their experiences. In December, the pair pitched a schoolwide event to help students understand what it means to be different.
"Our drive was to remove barriers to success, belonging and the ability to thrive for all students," Schmidt said. "It called for a hard look at the roots of these behaviors and intentional actions to liberate not just the bullied from oppressive acts, but the bully from the oppressive root causes of their actions."
Thus, the Pride and Liberation Event was born, and with it the styling of social activists and drag queens of color Vivica C. Coxx and Stormie Daie of the House of Coxx.
Schmidt described the event as a partnership but said he followed the lead of the performers.
"They have been the ones sticking their neck out for years to do this kind of work on behalf of the community. They create spaces that are free for everyone ... by fully recognizing every aspect of identity."
The House of Coxx drag house has been an advocate for social and racial issues in the Durham area for years. They are often asked to do events around the community advocating for racial and social justice, but for Vivica and Stormie, the idea of a middle school wanting to bring them in to be celebrated was a new one.
Both performers talked about their experiences in middle school and not being accepted. They said it's important to celebrate individual differences -- and to start that idea in the trenches of middle school.
"I thought they must be feeling so empo