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Four Leaders Fighting For LGBTQ+ Kids and Teachers This Pride Month
Each June, we observe Pride Month, a time when we celebrate the culture, contributions, and history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning community, and commemorate important moments in the civil rights movement, like the Stonewall Riots of 1969.
We also reflect upon the challenges people in the LGBTQ+ community have faced and continue to endure. The school dropout rate for LGBTQ+ students is three times the national average. Disproportionate numbers of LGBTQ+ youth face harassment and other harmful treatment at school. But through these challenges, the LGBTQ+ community continues to persevere through love and resiliency, bravery, and embracing differences and gathering together in solidarity.
One of the most significant ways we do that here at Teach For America is through PRISM chapters—our network of LGBTQ+ support groups that rallies alumni leaders, staff members, teachers, and community members together to support LGBTQ+ students and educators as we collectively work toward educational equity.
There are currently over a dozen PRISM chapters based in Teach For America’s regions across the country. Members of each chapter advocate for and engage people who identify as LGBTQ+ in ways that best match the unique needs and complexities of their local communities. (We’ve included the “+” in LGBTQ+ to be inclusive of all members within the LGBTQ community, including those with identities that are outside of the gender binary.)
And so, for Pride Month, we’re recognizing four TFA alumni who are leading the charge in supporting, celebrating, and enriching our LGBTQ+ youth and teachers and making the classroom a safer place in their communities, through existing and emerging regional PRISM chapters.
Cody Impton (Charlotte ‘16)
As someone who grew up attending a non-inclusive school, Cody knows how important it is for adults to create safe school environments for LGBTQ+ youth to thrive in and make their voices heard.
That’s why, as a second-year corps member teaching high school engineering in Charlotte, North Carolina, Cody launched Charlotte PRISM. He felt a responsibility to forge a network for LGBTQ+ students in his community, in the same way others have created support networks for him in the past, through a local PRISM chapter.
“In addition to systemic racism, classism, and educational inequities, we know LGBTQ+ students face additional barriers and discrimination at school and in the larger societal context,” Cody says. “If we are serious about making sure students have the opportunity to attain a quality education, we must put safety at the forefront of conversation and take action. In our local PRISM chapter, we recognize these barriers and are building community coalitions.”
Even in its infancy, Charlotte PRISM has accomplished a great deal, including a partnership with Time Out Youth (a LGBTQ+ youth community organization), securing volunteers and a partnership with Charlotte Pride, and hosting multiple annual events fostering conversation and encouraging best educational practices centered around making schools more inclusive.
Even with all of the progress made in Charlotte PRISM’s first year, Cody knows there’s still a lot to be done, and that the work can be difficult. But he urges everyone to remember the moments of joy that make the work worth it.
“Recently I bought one of my students a ticket to the local queer prom. She had moved a lot and was bullied in most of the schools she attended for being bisexual. When I told her about the queer prom she was so excited! I had a long conversation with her mother. She started crying to me on the phone about how thankful she is that her daughter has this opportunity to be herself,” Cody says. “The Monday following the prom, I asked my student how it went. She started to tear up, gave me a rainbow bracelet as thanks for the ticket, and told me it was the best night of her life.”
He adds, “That's why we do this work.”
Joseph Myers (South Dakota ‘14)
When Joseph returned to his hometown of Indianapolis after serving in the South Dakota corps, he recognized the need to ensure that his region was putting its best foot forward when it came to supporting LGBTQ+ teachers and youth in his community.
In addition to serving as the director of talent placement and matching on the Indianapolis regional team, Joseph also launched the region’s local PRISM chapter, led by corps members and alumni. The group is focused on building a strong and supportive community among Indianapolis alumni and corps members by offering affinity spaces, safe-zone training, and school-to-prison pipeline training with a focus on the LGB school-to-prison pipeline numbers (research on the school-to-prison pipeline from the full LGBTQ+ lens is still developing). The group is also in the process of creating a resource drive that they can share with school and community partners across Indianapolis.
“Our aim is to ensure that all of our teachers are not only trained on creating safe zones, but prepared to be trainers as well,” Joseph says. “We want our teachers to bring safe zone training practices back to their classrooms and schools if possible, to ensure that we are helping create safe, brave spaces across the Indy diaspora.”
This year the Indianapolis PRISM chapter celebrated a huge accomplishment—doubling its fundraising goal and creating the region’s first "Prism Library." The library collection is focused on books that affirm and reflect multifaceted identities—the kind of representation that LGBTQ+ youth of color often don’t encounter in books for children and young adults.
The books will be provided through a national partnership between Teach For America's LGBTQ+ Community Initiative and First Book, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit that distributes books to schools and community programs serving children from low-income neighborhoods.
“We now have $1000 that will be used to get 200 books that are inclusive of the intersecting identities of Indy youth,” Joseph says. “Once our books arrive, we plan to spread 50 books out to four community centers around the city to have mini Prism libraries across the landscape.”
Alaine Jolicoeur (Baltimore ‘16)
Baltimore is one of the newest emerging PRISM chapters in the TFA PRISM network. Co-leading the efforts to get Baltimore PRISM off the ground is Alaine Jolicoeur, a black transgender woman educator who advocates for protection, tolerance, and understanding for her school community and the larger Baltimore LGBTQ+ community.
“I am confident that in the years to come that the Baltimore PRISM will be an immense success for the greater needs of LGBTQ+ corp members and alumni,” Alaine says.
Alaine balances her work in Baltimore PRISM with her career teaching high school U.S. History, her administrative duties supporting the leadership team at her school, and her role as School Family Council chairwoman, in which she find ways to foster an inclusive, safe environment for LGBTQ+ students.
Alaine will also be a coach in the TFA PreCorps #BraveEducation community. She will be working with early admission corps members who join the LGBTQ+ virtual community, as well as engaging the 2019 corps members in tailoring their identity development and sharing best practices that support and protect them as LGBTQ+ educators and their students.
What grounds all of Alaine’s work is her dedication to being a visible ally to the LGBTQ+ youth in her school, in her community, and beyond.
“LGBTQ+ students very much know who I am because of the bright safe zone sticker on my laptop. They see my classroom as a safe place where they can be themselves,” Alaine says. “My presence shows LGBTQ+ youth visibility, and when I walk around the school, it indicates the progress we have made as a society. It gives them hope that there is an ally who is one of them.”
Gil Garza (Rio Grande Valley ‘16)
Pronouns: He/Him/His/El (Spanish)
Gil Garza teaches STEM physics and robotics at Mercedes High School T-Stem Academy and is the founder and co-Chair of the PRISM Board in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
Through his leadership, he’s making sure that rural and Latinx communities in the Rio Grande Valley are supported in the effort to provide a more equitable education for all LGBTQ+ students.
Gil and his 12 PRISM board members have partnered closely with TFA’s Rio Grande Valley regional team, who have provided the space and guidance to help the group increase access to resources for LGBTQ+ corps members and their students. The group hosted a resource fair for 2018 corps members, an alumni panel, and multiple “lunch and learns” where they discussed ways to support LGBTQ+ students.
In the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, the group will host the first LGBTQ+ education summit in the region, which will be open to all educators across the region.
“With our LGBTQ+ education summit, we will extend the reach of our network to educators outside of the TFA corps to effectively train and inform teachers from all parts of the Rio Grande Valley about ways to advocate for their queer students,” Gil says.
Now in its second year, the Rio Grande Valley PRISM chapter continues to build partnerships with a myriad of local organizations and maintains an active presence in the community. The group helps to organize the yearly Pride in the Park event in partnership with the South Texas Equality Project, and leads a number of fundraising campaigns for organizations that directly impact LGBTQ+ youth.
Last year they raised over $2200 for the Frank Hernandez Scholarship—a fund named after a victim of the Pulse nightclub massacre that provides tuition funds to current LGBTQ+ college students and rising high school seniors across the Rio Grande Valley.