I spoke with Ellen Kahn, the Director of the Family Project at HRC about this program. Our interview will be featured in Episode 5 of the Thoughts From A Lezzymom Podcast which will be out April 24th.
Here is the press release from the Human Rights Campaign:
WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, today announced the release of “An Introduction to Welcoming Schools,” a guide aimed at equipping school administrators, classroom teachers, and all other school personnel with knowledge and skills to address bias-based bullying, and to create environments where all students feel safe and affirmed. The announcement comes as the nation grapples with the suicides of two 11-year-old children, both of whom were frequent targets of anti-gay bullying.
“It is absolutely devastating that two children took their own lives in response to chronic bullying at school,” said Human Rights Campaign Foundation Family Project Director Ellen Kahn. “These tragedies point to an epidemic of bullying and name-calling among younger students, as well as a lack of knowledge or responsiveness on the part of school leaders to address these behaviors head on. ‘Welcoming Schools’ will help schools reduce those tensions and teach children to respect differences and not belittle them.”
The subject of school bullying and teasing—particularly harassment that is homophobic in nature—has emerged as a major issue in the wake of the suicides of the two 11-year-olds this month.
On April 6th, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield, Mass., hanged himself after a period of prolonged school bullying. Walker-Hoover’s mother says she complained to school leaders multiple times about the abuse her son suffered but was met with inadequate responses. Ten days later, Jaheem Herrera of DeKalb County, Ga., hanged himself. Herrera’s mother says her son was often bullied by other children at Dunaire Elementary School and claims the school administration ignored her complaints about it.
“We know that in these tragedies both boys routinely heard the words ‘gay’ and ‘fag,’ and were harassed in part because they were not perceived as “masculine” enough. We also know that school personnel do not always know how to respond to these kinds of behaviors. ‘Welcoming Schools’ can deliver real results in reducing this type of bullying,” continued Kahn.
“As a mother and teacher, I know some students wake up every morning and dread going to school because they don’t fit the gender norm,” Graciela Slesaransky-Poe, Ph.D., a member of the Welcoming Schools Advisory Board. “They’re harassed because somehow they’re different. What’s so powerful about Welcoming Schools is it helps students and educators alike understand that there are many different ways of being a boy or a girl.”
Originally planned for release later this spring, the ‘Welcoming Schools’ guide is designed for use in elementary schools to help create an inclusive approach to family diversity, name-calling and gender stereotyping. It also offers specific guidance on addressing anti-gay and gender-based name-calling.
HRC is in the second year of a three-year pilot of Welcoming Schools. Preliminary results show that educators want more training to address LGBT issues, as well as other diversity issues, in their schools and that with administrative support, professional development, and community involvement, educators want to tackle these issues with students.
The central goal of Welcoming Schools is to create a respectful learning environment for all students. The nation’s elementary school communities are comprised of diverse children and families, including multiethnic families, single parents, adoptive parents, gay and lesbian parents, immigrants, foster parents, and families headed by grandparents. The Welcoming Schools guide gives educators the tools to open dialogue about all kinds of diversity with students and families. By engaging the entire community, Welcoming Schools offers a comprehensive approach to improving the school climate.
“Educators have an important role in keeping students safe and creating an environment that provides for maximizing every student’s potential for academic success. Welcoming Schools is a valuable resource that can help lay the foundation for addressing these issues in elementary schools,” said Jerald L. Newberry, executive director of the National Education Association Health Information Network.
“An Introduction to Welcoming Schools” can be viewed online at www.welcomingschools.org.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.