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What a “Gay” Conference has to Teach Educators
Four days, 3,500 LGBTQQIA folks. One hotel. I recently spent a long weekend at the gayest conference in the nation: Creating Change. Hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, I was inundated by nearly 300 workshops, caucuses, plenary sessions, leadership sessions, a special message from Obama and a whole bunch of networking to boot.
You may be asking what such a conference has to do with educational inequity? The answer: everything.
Out of the ridiculous number of sessions, there were about two-dozen focused on or relating to education. In the work being done to offer a fair education to everyone, the queer youth community is widely invisible in the massive inequities they face. Creating Change shed much-needed light onto this, as I – a pretty involved gay dude – didn’t even know the true extent of unfairness.
One workshop, led by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), focused on federal legislation, or the lack thereof. Unlike gender, race, color, national origin, familial status, disability status and veteran status, sexual orientation and gender identity are not at all protected on a federal level.
This is very problematic, as I learned during an awesome workshop led by the suicide prevention group The Trevor Project. LGBT students continue to face very strong victimization.
Thirty percent or more of LGBT youth have missed one or more day of school for fear of victimization or bullying, according to GLSEN. The situation is worse for rural students, with absence rates as high as 36%. The sad but true facts go on and on: eight out of ten students face harassment (higher for students of color and those who are transgender or living in rural areas). Students who face victimization are also less likely to aspire to attend college. This is devastating. See GLSEN’s thorough and enlightening data here.
One giant step to fixing this is federal legislation that offers support and protections for students and, equally important, the vast majority of teachers who want to help students but may face administrative or local opposition.
Politics, as is often the case, interferes with the ability for all students to access a great education. GLSEN and other pro-LGBT organizations have fought hard for the last decade to promote the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the School Non-Discrimination Act. The first would require an enumerated (clearly listed) anti-bullying policy that included LGBT students. The second would require an enumerated anti-discrimination policy that would make it illegal for schools to discriminate against LGBT students. Many populations already benefit from similar protections: it’s far over-due for our LGBT students to be treated equally.
In lieu of such legislation – which may fare better in the new class of lawmakers – teachers have great opportunity and a greater responsibility to protect and teach all students.
This was reinforced for me as I attended a caucus specifically for K-12 educators. I was greatly humbled as educators of all types (veteran, new to the scene, and administrators) came in solidarity to protect our youth. It’s possible and it’s necessary.
Not all change is nationwide. Indeed, all educators can begin to take a stance locally today by joining with The Trevor Project, GLSEN and Teach For America in their S.A.F.E. campaign: Creating Classrooms that are Safe and Affirming for Everyone.
You don’t have to be a TFA corps member to pledge. You can opt in to receive a Safe Space kit to help make your room, if not your school, an equal-opportunity learning space.